Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dreamy Monarchs and the Workhorse Ageratum

In a recent post I commented that we haven't seen monarch butterflies in our garden for two years and with the drastic decline in their population I just wasn't very hopeful that we would be seeing them anytime soon.

Monarch butterfly on ageratum

Well, it seems that I've been proven wrong. Last week as my friend Penny and I were pulling into my driveway I spotted a large orange butterfly on the ageratum. I remember shouting out "Look I think there is a monarch on the ageratum!" From that distance I thought perhaps my eyes were playing tricks on me and it was just one of the many gulf fritillaries that have been prancing around our garden all summer and fall. Could it really be a monarch? Much to my surprise as we got closer we confirmed that it was a healthy, male monarch.

Monarch butterfly on ageratum bloom

I was elated! I spent some time watching it flutter from bloom to bloom while Penny, who had her camera handy, busily took photos. I was afraid that if I ran inside to get my camera the monarch would be gone when I returned. (Does that happen to you too?) I tried taking a photo with my phone but it takes really lousy photos and I finally broke down and got my camera.

Monarch butterfly on ageratum bloom

And am I glad I did! The deep orange of the monarch against the true blue of the blooms makes a dreamy combination.


The following day I spotted a second monarch (another male) on the ageratum. They hung around the ageratum the entire day. With all the blooms in the garden this was their plant of choice.

Monarch butterflly and Fiery skipper on ageratum
Fiery skipper & Monarch butterflies on ageratum
Ageratum or blue mist flower is such a workhorse in the garden this time of year and a must have if you want to attract butterflies to your garden. The tiny, wispy blue flowers are a feast for both butterflies and bees. Our blooms are covered in butterflies of all sizes, from the small skippers to the large monarchs. It is especially attractive to the smaller species which in our garden includes butterflies in the skipper family such as the long-tailed skippers, fiery skippers, silver spotted skippers.

Long-tailed skipper on ageratum
Long-tailed skipper on ageratum

Long-tailed skipper (Urbanus proteus)
Long-tailed skipper butterfly (Urbanus proteus)
Ageratum is a member of the aster family and if you look closely you may see a resemblance to Joe-Pye weed which is in the same family.

Fiery skipper on ageratum
Fiery skipper feasting on blue mist flower

Fiery skipper butterfly (Hylephila phyleus)
Fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus)
In addition to butterflies, late summer and fall blooming plants in the asteraceae family provide food for many insects which in turn provide food to insect-eating birds such as bluebirds, orioles, and warblers.

American Painted Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
American Painted Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

common buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia)
Common buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia)
The storms which have swept across the eastern part of the country over the past few days have helped the monarchs flutter along in the direction of our garden. Today I counted 7 monarchs all camped out on the ageratum.


There was a steady wind with some fairly strong wind gusts and the monarchs really had to cling tightly not to get blown off. The conditions made it challenging not only for the butterflies but also the photographer trying to get some decent shots.


Seven must be our lucky number because oddly, two years ago when we had monarch butterflies migrate through in the fall, there were also seven. I hope that you are so blessed as to have these gorgeous butterflies make a stop in your garden on their journey south.

11 comments:

  1. That is so exciting! I'm seeing more Monarchs in the last few days...they seemed slow to show up this year. Great photos, Karin!

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    1. Last time I saw this many monarchs in our garden was early October too so it must be the time they cruise through Georgia. I'm sure they will be headed your way shortly. I know you will take good care of them Cat!

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  2. OI think our last one left Sunday so I am glad all those I have been sending your way have made it....they loved our asters and helianthus....I am sure they were hungry so your ageratum hit the spot.

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    1. Thank you for giving them a nudge our way Donna! I've got lots of asters and sunflowers just waiting on the other side of the garden but the monarchs haven't made it over there yet. This ageratum must be like candy to them.

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    2. I'll need to add that next year for them!!

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  3. How wonderful to finally see Monarchs! And they do go awfully well with the Ageratum. I love that long-tailed skipper, I've never seen one of those.

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    1. Aren't they great! We see them frequently in our garden. I love the bright blue on their abdomen.

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  4. I just saw another Monarch today, believe it or not! Poor thing--it was all alone fluttering due west over the top of a hill. I noticed when I went to the UW test gardens that the Monarchs preferred Argeratum. These were non-native annuals, but I've seen them on the native Argeratum, too. I just added Blue Mistflower to my garden this year. They're taking a little time to get established, but hopefully next summer/fall they'll fill in more. Beautiful blooms. And great captures, Karin!

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    1. Thanks Beth! Mine took two seasons before they really took hold and then they took off. I had to move some from a too shady part of my garden this year and now waiting for them to be happier, next year.

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  5. How great that you saw some Monarchs in the garden! I haven't seen any this year, but my garden is not that big yet. Here's hoping that they make a comeback! I love the Long-tailed Skippers, too. I haven't seen one up here in MA yet, but I used to have them back in North Carolina.

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    1. Oh I bet once you get your garden planted and matures a little you will see lots of monarchs. I had to look up the range of the long tailed skipper since you and Jason both commented about them. It appears that they have been sighted up the east coast as far north as Connecticut but not in the Midwest.

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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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