On Butterflies and Other Pollinating Wildlife
In July, I observed a Monarch butterfly finding its way to a flowering milkweed plant in Ascot Hills Park, a new nature park in the El Sereno area. The Monarch is a migratory butterfly, not a resident. It must complete its migratory cycle in its prescribed time and its larvae must feed on milkweed plants in the Asclepias genus. Many of the milkweed plants have been eliminated through development, brush clearing, and other land management activities, so the sighting of a Monarch in our urban city is a rare event.
This butterfly sighting has since sent me on an interesting journey of discovery. I wrote an article, “The Butterflies Are Back,” for a local monthly newspaper, the Voice, in which I recounted the fact that I am observing a resurgence of many native plants that support the habitats of butterflies and other creatures in this new park. Little did I know that in the following month I would be observing the life cycle and metamorphosis of Monarchs in this park and connecting my observations to that which is occurring here in Mount Washington.
In Ascot Hills I first found two Monarch larvae, “caterpillars” to us lay persons, chewing up a single milkweed plant, the Indian Milkweed, Asclepias eriocarpa. In a few days, both caterpillars transformed into chrysalides, the pupa stage. Ten days later, I observed both emerge as new adult butterflies. Inspired, I set out to check out other areas where I knew Indian Milkweed plants are growing. Much to my surprise, I found only one other Monarch caterpillar on a single plant in a large patch of milkweed plants in Ascot Hills Park. I then checked on a large patch of Indian Milkweed in Moon Canyon Park. We have been relatively successful at saving these plants from the annual weed whip brush clearing, but alas, I found not a single caterpillar, only some milkweed beetles. Rats, I said to myself, what could be happening? We are encouraging all of these larval food plants, but the Monarch butterflies are not finding them. Then it dawned on me: diversity is the key. Adult butterflies feed on many flowering plants. Could it be that the large patches of Indian Milkweed lack sufficient diversity of other flowering plants to attract these butterflies? In Moon Canyon, we have very few plants left, except for the Black Walnut trees and Indian Milkweed that we save from the weed whips. In Ascot Hills Park, the milkweed with the larvae had several other flowering plants nearby. The large patch with but a single caterpillar had only dry weeds as most other native and flowering plants had been eliminated by the years of plowing. Yes, diversity must be the key.
In Elyria Canyon Park, Daniel Marlos has led volunteer efforts to similarly save patches of Indian Milkweed from the weed whips, and because there are many other flowering plants surviving close by, Monarch larvae are munching their way on these plants and will most likely become adult butterflies, too. Daniel and the Mount Washington Beautification Committee are pursuing funding for and planning a butterfly garden project for Elyria Canyon Park. The success of the project will not rely on saving just one plant species, but on adding diversity of native plants that will offer a year-round supply of nectar and pollen.
Lynnette Kampe, I, and other members of our Beautification Committees are now looking at ways to encourage more Mount Washington residents to add native plants to their gardens that will support pollinating species, such as the Monarchs, other butterflies, birds, etc. In the past we have encouraged planting native plants through our native plant sales. Now we hope to have those who would like to have habitat supporting gardens join in. Here are some sources to check out. Theodore Payne Foundation, http://www.theodorepayne.org – lots of info on native plants, birds, butterflies, etc. North American Butterfly Association, www.naba.org - look for links on to local butterfly gardening. This second website lists exotic and non-native plants that will provide nectar and larval food sources for many of our local butterflies. I hope you will find ways to add many butterfly attracting plants to your garden. Lynnette and I, as well as the staff at Theodore Payne Foundation, are additionalresources to help you with your gardening choices.