Monarch with a caterpillar tattered Heliopsis helianthoides
(click on image for a larger view)
This is going to be a double post this time, both here and on the Tallgrass Journal blog as well...the prairie is an important theme in my work and my interests elsewhere.
Have you been seeing many Monarch butterflies out there this summer? We've had a good number here on the remnant prairie pasture here at the studio...but the question is also academic, I guess you could say. The Monarch Butterfly is probably one of our best know insects in North America, yet is one with many issues regarding its health and future in our world.
Journey North, an educational project through The Annenberg Foundation, is asking the question, and has been asking it for several years now. Journey North is "A global study of wildlife migration and seasonal change." It is also described as a "free citizen science project for students across North America". Although this was intentionally set up as a K-12 curriculum, it is open to anyone's participation, and frankly benefits from that. To learn more about the Monarch and Journey North go to their page at http://www.learner.org/jnorth/monarch/index.html
I like to send in reports as they transform here at the prairie, it contributes to a better understanding of the Monarch and keeps tabs on issues of their population health and the environment around them...they are quite like the proverbial "canary in the coal mine".
Monarch Watch is much the same...Monarch Watch is part of the Biological Survey through the University of Kansas. Monarch Watch is about the same business as Journey North - the health and status of this North American icon butterfly. Monarch Watch also takes on the promotion of "habitat for Monarchs". And because I like to watch and photograph (and draw and paint) Monarchs, habitat "is" important.
If you are ever interested in growing thing for Monarchs, the following might be helpful.
They're well know for their dependence on milkweeds. We have 4 species of Asclepiadaceae (milkweed family) here at Prairie Hill Farm - Common (A. syriaca), Butterfly Milkweed (A. tuberosa), Swamp Milkweed (A. incarnata) and Whorled Milkweed (A. verticillata)...the latter, Whorled, is the only one that seems to be more of a "pest" plant here...I've never encouraged it but it is definitely the "bully" milkweed! Which seems somewhat humorous because its also the smallest in stature...but I also see it as the milkweed of preference for the Monarchs here...oh, they love the Butterfly Milkweed, but mostly the seed pods! Which I try and save to use for future propagation. You'll often see me picking Monarch caterpillars off of the A. tuberosa and repositioning them onto the A. verticillata plants!
But Monarchs, in the butterfly stage, love to feed on just about any nectar, so any wildflower you can find out here on the prairie is a great food source for Monarchs! If I were to vote on what the butterflies like "here", I'd say mid summer favorites are the Heliopsis helianthoides like in the post photo above (sometimes called Ox-eye sunflower, but it isn't really a sunflower), Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta), Gray-headed Coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata), Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum) and of course, flowers of all the milkweeds. Later on in the summer the Liatris family and all the Goldenrods and all the Asters are butterfly magnets! "Here" the Stiff Goldenrods (Solidago rigida) are the Monarch champs...they are very aggressive forbs too so they aren't necessarily "my" favorites!
A side benefit here is our grove bordering the north and west side of our acreage. We tend to be a migration stop-over in September here...its great seeing the 1-2-3 hundred or more Monarchs gather together in the evening, and disperse again in the morning! What a great circle for the season to complete...I recommend keeping your proverbial door open for the Monarch each year...we need them and they need us!