|Monarch Butterfly/photo courtesy Pismo Beach Butterfly Grove|
The groves are roosting places, from late October to February, for the monarch butterflies that migrate there from as far north as Canada to seek shelter from freezing weather. They flock to the groves of non native Eucalyptus trees (and sometimes Cypress, pine, or Redwood trees) on the mild California coast. At least that is the habit of the monarchs that live on the western side of the Rocky Mountains. The monarchs living east of the Rockies fly to Mexico to overwinter.
I learned that bit of information, and much more, from the well informed docents at the park who provide information about the life cycle and journey of the amazing monarchs.
'Butterfly Weed' Asclepias
Perhaps it's because of the photos I had seen on other blogs of the brilliantly colored flowers of 'Butterfly Weed' (Asclepias) or reading about what other gardeners are doing to bring pollinators to their yards, but I wanted to know more about the habits of these amazing butterflies, who in the 5th generation, fly thousands of miles to reach overwintering sites. There they rest, mate, and then fly away at the end of February to begin laying the first of a new generation of eggs on milkweed plants throughout the San Joaquin Valley and points beyond and into Canada.
We looked in amazement at the thousands of monarchs clustered in groups hanging in bunches from high in the trees, looking very much like clusters of leaves. Until you looked through the telescopes that were provided. Then the individual butterflies could be seen. My little camera could not telescope enough to get a good photo, but below is one of the butterfly clusters. Those are butterflies, not leaves! Not many monarchs were flying about just yet, waiting until the end of February when it gets a bit warmer before mating and going on their northward journey.
Monarch butterfly cluster
It is believed that the decline in numbers is due to the loss of the milkweed habitat because of the use of herbicides, urban, rural and agricultural development and the long term drought.
Milkweed or Butterfly Weed (both plants belong to the genus Asclepias ) are the only host plants for the monarch butterfly. The female lays her eggs, which look like white poppy seeds, on the underside of the leaves of the milkweed plant and the little caterpillars emerge in a few days and immediately begin munching on the leaves of the milkweed.
|'Butterfly Weed' Asclepias at Pismo Grove|
|Monarch egg/courtesy of Pismo Butterfly Grove|
A captive caterpillar that was housed in a "bug house" happily munching away on milkweed.
And a chrysalis that has attached itself to a twig just waiting for its birthday.
I think 'Butterfly Weed' with its brightly colored flowers is much prettier than the common milkweed that grows here in the Valley, although common milkweed is becoming increasingly uncommon due to development and agriculture.
We were given a brochure from the Xerces Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting wildlife through conservation. The society suggests planting native milkweed and not 'tropical milkweed' to help restore the western monarchs' habitat. Click here for information about native California milkweed. I am still a bit confused about tropical vs native milkweeds and will be researching more.
|'Butterfly Weed' (Asclepias) in my garden 7/18/13|
Before we left the butterfly grove last week, we stopped by the kiosk where I bought a packet of seeds of Asclepias Curassavica from Douglas-Michel Butterflyplants. Today I noticed instructions on their website to "cut back plants by ⅓ in December to mimic native species." I think I will need to ask some more questions!
Then this note was attached to the back of the seed packet. Sometimes trying to do the right thing can be so confusing!