Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Walk Through a Meadow In Search of Monarchs

On our summer trips to Michigan I am always impressed with how much common milkweed there is. It grows abundantly along the roadsides, in the sand dunes, in rocks along the lake, in the medians of the highways and in many gardens.


It is no wonder that it is here, in the northern states and southern Canada, that the monarchs come to summer. Despite all the common milkweed I see here, there has been a 58% decrease in milkweed numbers across the Midwest between 1999 and 2010 because of herbicide use and loss of habitat (source: University of Minnesota). This has serious consequences for the future of the monarch's migration.

On our most recent visit to Michigan, I had the privilege of touring a family friend's garden. Everything is grown organically here. As impressive as her garden is I was drawn to the meadow that covers a good part of her 14 acres.


The meadow is filled with Queen Anne's Lace intermingled with butterfly weed and common milkweed. Along the edge of the meadow grows ironweed and yarrow.


With all the milkweed I went on a hunt for monarch butterflies, eggs and caterpillars. This is what I discovered on my walk through the meadow.


A beautiful fritillary enjoying the common milkweed blooms. Inspecting the plant I didn't find any monarch eggs or caterpillars or evidence of munching.


Butterfly weed grows abundantly amongst the QAL and lots of pollinators were enjoying the blooms. One of my observations was that there were many more pollinators on the butterfly weed than the QAL. A testament that when insects have a choice they pick the native plants.


I spotted several black and blue butterflies. The black swallowtail were attracted to the QAL, a member of the carrot family, which is one of the host plants for this species.

Black swallowtail (male)
The Spicebush butterfly is also a member of the swallowtail family and I tend to mistake these two. I am not sure why because when you look at them they are indeed very different.

Spicebush Swallowtail
As I continued my search for a monarch, I spotted a glimpse of orange and black fluttering around at the far end of the meadow. Upon my arrival I discovered that it was its mimic, the Viceroy.

Viceroy butterfly

I inspected more milkweed. Still no signs of the monarchs. But a few red milkweed beetles that also feed on common milkweed.

red milkweed beetle

More Queen Anne's Lace. It looks beautiful swaying in the breeze and the birds perched on the tall stalks while hunting insects.


How do you feel about this non-native, biennial plant. It is a wild carrot introduced from Europe and does compete with native plants. Some insects have benefited from its introduction such as the black swallowtail butterfly which has adapted to use it as a host plant. Other insects such as the green lacewing come to the plant to find aphids and bees and butterflies sip on its nectar.


This plant is very abundant in Michigan, even more so than what I see growing in Georgia. It spreads its seeds by wind and is quite invasive.

But, on with the hunt...

More butterfly weed and more butterflies, but still no evidence of the monarchs. I was getting somewhat discouraged. So much milkweed and no monarchs. This spring's cool and wet weather has been hard on all butterfly populations and this doesn't help the situation when the monarchs are already in peril. The monarch populations crashed last summer and this summer the populations started low and have been staying low.

silver checkerspot butterflies
But, as I lifted my head I spotted something hanging on a plant on the other side of the fence, in the neighbor's field.


Could it be...


A sign of hope!

Many of us are doing what we can to help the monarch populations and that has to be worth something! We have to hopeful!

9 comments:

  1. Wow! Karin, I'm so glad you at least found a chrysalis!

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  2. So interesting. In the 8 years I've been in North Carolina, I have never seen many Monarchs until September. Even then they are not as abundant as the swallowtail and the common buckeye. My butterfly weed is not working...

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  3. What a very special visit. Karin it gives me hope to see the chrysalis...and for me the common milkweed, swamp milkweed and butterfly weed grow abundantly with QAL but few butterflies this year. But I plan to grow more and harvest seed to give to the effort to plant more...perhaps we can bring the monarchs back even more.

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  4. What an interesting post--thanks for all the great info about host plants. I didn't realize that swallowtails have adapted to use Queen Anne's Lace as a host plant. I must admit that I find QAL and Chicory quite beautiful along the roadways here in the Midwest, even though they're non-native invasives. As I watched so many plants (included natives) struggling and going dormant during last summer's drought, the QAL and Chicory were still going strong. How wonderful that you found a Monarch chrysallis!

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  5. I have seen very few milkweed in our area this year. I too am reporting on the lack of butterflies in general. We have had so few this year it is almost scary. I am glad to hear where you are in Michigan has an abundance of milkweed. The problem is all the places in between for that long trip of the Monarchs. Your butterfly photos are wonderful.

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  6. It's been a very discouraging year for those of us interested in survival of the Monarch. According to Journey North, the numbers that have reached the North are way down over previous years. All we can do is do everything we can in our own gardens to help them and support the organizations that are trying to educate the public about use of pesticides and herbicides and to create "safe zones" for their migration.

    As for Queen Anne's Lace, I know it is an invasive but I confess I love it! Somewhat like Eurasian Collared-doves and the old tawny orange daylily, or "ditch lily." As far as I know, QAL does not do anything terrible to the environment and, as you note, it is a real boon to many pollinators.

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  7. Hooray! This is the second season in a row that I haven't had a single Monarch visit my butterfly garden. Hopefully this won't become a trend and their numbers will increase. So glad you found one!

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  8. I have 40 common milkweed in my Monarch Waystation and swamp and butterfly weed in my garden... Not a single egg to raise... Not one.... Michelle

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  9. Some lovely nature photos. I just love the butterflies, the beetle the and bird amongst the tall flowers.

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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