Two articles from Science Daily inspired me to focus on butterflies this week. Article on focused on the difficult winter that Monarch butterflies faced in their wintering grounds in Mexico, this year. The weather was cold and wet. This, along with habitat destruction threatened the overwintering butterflies. The second article focuses on creating butterfly oases to help their north/south migrations.

One of the greatest threats to all wildlife is habitat destruction. The same forces that affect large wildlife affect the insects as well. Suburban sprawl, increased pesticide use to maintain that perfect monoculture lawn, along with loss of small farms and an increase in insect resistant crops is taking their tolls on insect populations.

The good news is that the suburban landscape is a the perfect place to build butterfly oases. Butterflies don't need a lot. They need nectar bearing flowers. They need nursery plants on which to lay eggs. They need to be able to have a pesticide free life. That's it. The reward we get for planting these oases is beautiful flowers, some with stems, some with wings. The other good news is that it is a great "connecting with children and nature activity".

I'll begin an intermittent series on butterfly gardens with a focus on Monarchs. Monarchs butterflies feed on the nectar from a variety of plants like zinnia, lantana and milkweed. The nursery plant for the monarch is the milkweed. Butterflies lay a single egg on the underside of a leaf. When the egg hatches it will begin its life by eating the host plant. The sap of the milkweed plant gives the monarch butterfly protection in the form of a bitter toxin that birds and other animals learn quickly to avoid. In a few weeks the caterpillar will find a place to create its chrysalis so that it can complete the final stage of life before becoming an adult.

The babies that were hatched in my yard have grown and flown. I like to think that they will pass through again, this September, on their way back to their wintering grounds in Mexico. I look forward to the next crew. The milkweed and lantana in my yard are ready and waiting.

To find out more information about how to plant a butterfly oasis go to Monarch Watch (www.monarchwatch.org). You can receive a way station kit that will help you build the best habitat for your monarchs. The kits include seeds for milkweed and other nectar plants.

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Comment by beth chase on May 19, 2010 at 3:48pm
@ sarah what a lovely way to honor your sister. I really envy you, your time with the cabin path. It sounds like a delightful way to spend each day. Great quote!

@ suz, thanks for the support. I really enjoyed those articles. It was nice to have the balance of "here's what you can do" to offset the "this is the loss that this species has faced this year." I really liked the fact that you can write for butterfly kits to help build gardens.
Comment by Suz Lipman on May 18, 2010 at 11:01am
Beth, thank you so much for posting this lovely and valuable reminder about the importance of butterflies and the easy ways people can get involved in encouraging their habitats. I really appreciate it.

Sarah, thank you, too, for your beautiful quote about butterflies and for telling us about your memorial butterfly garden and the community's part in bringing plants for it. I'm sure it will be peaceful and healing.
Comment by Sarah Crutchfield on May 17, 2010 at 6:01am
We are working on a Butterfly Garden at The Cabin Path. It is a memory garden to honor my sister. There is a quote: "If nothing ever changed, there'd be no butterflies." (author unknown) but it is the theme for our garden. Many of my workshop families have brought "butterfly friendly" cuttings and plants..and they have shared the stories behind their plants. Thank you for sharing the link. Butterflies are magically inspirational creatures..a lesson for all of us!

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