Friday, August 25, 2006

Butterflies Everywhere

We've had so many butterflies around Bluebird Cove. It's been delightful to look out the windows and see them floating everywhere. Each year we have more plants and bushes that attract them.

This year was the first that our Joe Pye Weed grew huge and bloomed. The Eastern Tiger Swallowtails have been all over it, sometimes 10 of them at a time. Other butterflies have enjoyed this plant also. We transplanted it from a lot that was going to be developed, so it's extra special to us since it's a rescued plant.

This plants loves water so we planted it right by a downspout so it has moist soil. We dug it up from the side of a small stream. It grew last year after the previous Fall transplant, but only had tiny blooms. This year it is well over six feet and full of huge beautiful flowers heads that are a foot high and half a foot wide themselves.

The first Monarch we saw this year was on the Joe Pye Weed. These beautiful butterflies remind many of stained glass. Their colors and design are so striking in any garden or on any plant.

Their polka dot bodies make them look like they are all dressed up for a special date.

Monarch lay their eggs only on Milkweeds. When the caterpillar emerges from the egg, it eats the plant for about two weeks and then forms a chrysalis and this is known as the pupal stage. After another two weeks, the butterfly emerges to continue the cycle.

An adult Monarch will live only two to six weeks depending on the weather. If they migrate they may live longer with the extended warm weather, but there are many risks involved.

Each year thousands of Monarchs arrive in Mexico to winter-over before heading back north again to lay eggs for another cycle.

A couple years back I was on the way to the mailbox and saw a Monarch on one of our grasses along the driveway. It was stretching and there was a chrysalis beside it so I assumed it had just arrived for its first morning at Bluebird Cove and in this world.

Since their life cycle depends so greatly on the presence of Milkweed plants, habitat is getting scarce, so there has been a concern for these butterflies.

MonarchWatch provides a lot of detailed information on them and some projects that would be fun for the entire family. Getting the natural world to be part of your daily lifestyle makes a difference on how adults and children manage stress in their lives. It's well worth the time involved.

We had Bluebird Cove certified as a Monarch Way Station not long ago. This is one of the projects mentioned at the Monarch Watch site. There's not much to do it. You need some Milkweed plants and some plants that provide nectar. The cost for certification is only $12.

We had received a cash gift from some friends and since she loved butterflies it seemed appropriate that we use that gift for the certification. We also purchased a sign that's available. We wanted the sign especially for education since our street has many walkers.

Getting others to consider providing habitat for Monarchs makes it even more rewarding a project. The local newspaper did an article about it and took the photo of us that you see here. With the sign and the article, we've had a lot of questions and others have already begun to add things to their own gardens to enjoy these incredible creatures.

Here's a website that offers lots of article on Butterfly Gardening:

Different plants attract different butterflies. There are long lists of what various types of butterflies like. You can gradually add plants to the garden. The obvious ones are those that attract the adult butterfly, but you will want to provide host plants.

Host plants are those that will be used by various types of butterflies to lay their eggs on. Each type of butterfly has very specific requirements for where they will lay their eggs. The plant must be one that the caterpillar (or the larval stage) will consume to become big enough and strong enough to spin its cocoon.

None are as fussy as the Monarch, but you will want to be sure to include some plants for all stages of the butterfly.

That information can be found on the sites mentioned within this blog.

Getting a butterfly field guide is a nice addition to the project and enjoyment factor of butterflies. It's nice to know the names of your visitors.

The one I like the most is a Kaufman Focus Guide. "The Best Guides for Getting Started: Butterflies of North America," by Jim P. Brock and Kenn Kaufman. I'm sure there are many others that are equal or better, but this one has been easy to use. I like to mark the date in for the first time I've seen one here at Bluebird Cove.

I notice that when I begin to see ones that we have seen before, I feel that they are old friends returning. Of course, being a butterfly with such a short life span, they are not the same ones, so I have to consider them kinfolk dropping by. They know genetically that we welcome them, I'm sure.

You will see many of them looking like they're on their last day. They seem so worn. I've taken a lot of photos of some of those Tattered and Torn butterflies and included some in an article.

One new plant we've had this year has been the Jimson Weed plant which some little birdie dropped in. I would've put it somewhere else if I'd know how tall and wide it was going to get, but it's still done well where it is. It was interesting to see a Monarch interested in it.

The incredible number of blooms has been a real blessing to view but this plant is quite toxic to animals and humans, so we will probably not invite it back next year. I've been dead-heading it vigorously.

Here's a site that will give you more information about Jimson Weed:

Be sure to leave your comments on your own butterfly experiences below at the bottom of this blog. Others besides me will enjoy them so much.

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