Caterpillar season I

I've ever paid great attention to the new years' crop of larvae that follows each flight of lepidoperans... With my first gardens I've sought that will'o'the wisp the "butterfly garden". In the sprayed and manicured chaos of the urban flora, what baloney to think that you can create a happy home for your favorite species. However correct your choices in food and nectaring species, it takes a forest, meadow or swamp to raise a butterfly.

I don't know why this bothers me so much. Some nice people register a 'butterfly habitat"; this involves essentially random choices of "butterfly plants"-- whatever they are. One common sign shows a monarch icon: I've not yet seen one of these with our local milkweed. Of course, those orange and black beauties have an amazing radar for their preferred food. hence: your best opportunity to actually raise butterflies... I've grown milkweed here for 15 years; generally having 3-5 kinds gotten here or there. I emphasize the local; and adults flyng over my yard go straight to milkweed--even ignoring tempting nectar sources. An individual will light on every milkweed; nothing else. But they evince preference for the local stuff by landing repeatedly; and gravid females will lay eggs of it alone. Any larvae will eventually eat the other varieties if repeatedly placed on one of them; but they visibly don't seem happy with such variety.
None of our nurseries--and we've more than one who pitch native species--ever have the real deal. These, and other regular vendors often stock the variety with thin glossy dark-green leaves and festive red/orange flowers. I've see local monarchs lay on this stuff. Pretty it is; but to me not right.
On the Santa Rosa plain I've reliably found milkweed and monarchs in season along the railroad tracks. If you walk from Penngrove to Windsor, you'll find patches every mile or so. Elsewhere: zero sightings in 30 years. Sadly, the light rail project--if it ever gets done--will undoubtedly extirpate all of this by cleaning up and planting lovely 'butterfly flowers'. My pet idea was that the yearly late-springtime mowing of the right of way allowed the steady development of this plant; that springs from a taproot after the May drought, so pops right up after the grasses have died and are mowed. Reasonable? One thing's for sure: landscaping with roundup will finish it all off.
Who cares? I'm sensible of the worth to the multigenerational migration of the cohort maturing here after September/Octobers' visit. Starting in Late August, you may see a few patrolling the milkweed sites; flying back and forth. When a male is joined by a few Monarch, they tussle a bit to sort out who's who. A proper pair will mate immediately; and caterpillars are found until the frost kills the last of the plants. If you look for years, you are unlikely to find a crysalid; despite their outstanding jade-green brillance in a sea of dead grass. But they are there, hatching adults until jack frost. These beauties hit the beach in the prime of young life; to luxurate in the milky sun of wintertime Bolinas. To have must have the best chance of making the turnaround in the spring, it must help to be young. It would help if our doughty butterfly gardeners took up slack in the matter of milkweed.

To get yours, collect the downy flyaway seeds from the bursting pods of October. Indeed: clumps of cottonwool allow you to find the elusive weed in catepillar season when the plants are usually withering fast as they are consumed by hoards of yellow aphids. Many years the butterflies come to scant and withered plantations. I walk the tracks and take larvae off little stubs of milkweed; to the eden of my own lusty plants. Transplanting is hard-to-impossible. I've done so by digging up the plants in January; but to do this you need to know what to dig, and there's not much topside to guide you. With scrupulous care, you've a 50/50 chance. Germination of the tiny seeds is inefficient(maybe careful technique could improve the yield), but usually a massive dose of seed in November will yield a few plants. Once it's in, it's permanent. In July, the lavender flowers are very nice. By Monarch time the plants have declined horribly; but in your garden a bit of water and dead-heading will allow plenty for these thrifty bugs.

Posted by icosahedron icosahedron, May 16, 2011 01:09


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