Sunday, April 17, 2011

Monarchs are Too Early

If you've been hanging around Monarch Watch and Journey North, you know monarch butterflies are ahead of their annual migration, and well ahead of milkweed growth. Some of the images at Journey North show dozens of eggs on milkweed only a few inches tall. Not good.

Warm temps and strong south winds have coaxed the butterflies north at a rapid pace. Chip Taylor, the director of Monarch Watch in Kansas, says that unless temps stay warm, populations will suffer. Obviously, cooler temps (above freezing) will slow down caterpillar growth, but a freeze would be deadly.

I've started milkweed in my house for the first time ever, heat mat and everything, and hope they make it (new to the nuances of starting plants). I do have swamp milkweed and common milkweed poking up outside, and since the monarchs are on the KS / NE border, it's none too soon. Usually, we don't see butterflies until Mid May, but it looks like it could be later this week or early next.

18 comments:

Barbee' said...

That's not good! The poor monarchs have taken a beating these past several years. Seems it isn't over, yet.

Elephant's Eye said...

Is it milkweed or nothing? Is there no Plant B?

Benjamin Vogt said...

Milkweed or nothing. It's the only larval host plant for monarchs. At least the winter site in Mexico did ok, it seems. But I imagine the drought in TX this year is also hurting northward migrants, too. They can't get much of a break.

Corner Gardener Sue said...

After reading your post, I went out to see if my milkweed is coming up, and it's not. Maybe I should put milk cartons over the area to warm up the soil. Larry said he saw a blue butterfly of some kind awhile back. I just saw my first moth of the season the other day.

I haven't heard back from Kathy Moore. I did mention that you were the only other local gardening blog that I knew of. I told her you are actually a writer, while I just talk through writing.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Sue--You did just what I did after I read up on the monarchs! I've noticed that milkweed I planted last year are coming up, but like usual, established milkweed are taking their time. I don't know why that is every year, but each year I plant a few new swamp milkweed anyway. Thanks for mentioning me to Kathy. I hope she contacts me so I can pontificate on native plains plants, milkweeds, fall flowers, tall perennials (I have a 12-14' tall ironweed)....

greggo said...

Had a single Monarch last week before our 36 degree night Friday. Even saw a couple on the country roadsides. My milkweed plants are still asleep also.
My seeds planted outdoor last fall have not appeared either. However I did get 2 to germ in a flat outside, they are small but maybe enough for one cat or two.

Benjamin Vogt said...

G--I was wondering if you'd seen any down there yet, and figured you must have. Those pictures of milkweed covered in eggs shows how desparate the females are to find host plants. I think Sue's idea of putting some glass or plastic over her plants to coax them up early is a good strategy.

DD said...

Good luck with the milkweed. I hope they survive. It's great that you can try and help them.

Layanee said...

Actually, Benjamin, the monarchs will also feed on the annual Gomphocarpos physocarpus which was formerly in the Asclepias genus and it is easy to grow. That probably counts but just for your info... I had about six caterpillars feeding on this very strange plant whose common name is 'Hairy balls' (Hey, I did not name it) but being a newbie I didn't realize I should have given them some protection from birds. They were gone one morning and I learned a valuable lesson. I will cover them with netting if I am lucky enough to have more. Good luck with the seedlings.

Benjamin Vogt said...

DD--I've got 10 different varieties of milkweed, and trying to get more. Most years, though, only 3 see most of the action.
Layanee--I stand corrected! Now that you mentioned hairy balls, I remember others talking about it once. Of course, which are you more likely to find at the nursery? Well, niether, if you live by me. It's not like monarchs also like, oh, sunflowers or sedum or some other everyday garden plant. Alas, if they did, we'd have billions of butterflies. Hairy balls. I said it again. :)

Randy Emmitt said...

Benjamin,

The Monarchs have no worries mate. I surveyed them on the Eastern Shore of VA for 3 months in 2004. Butterflies bounce back, have for enos. One year our butterfly count found 1800 tiger swallowtails, the next year 26. Back to normal the next. Monarchs are a very hardy species. those Journey North people get excited every year like this.

Benjamin Vogt said...

But Randy, they have so far to bounce back from if you take into account what their number were a decade ago. And the future doesn't look bright as we destroy their habitats, summer and winter.

Gail said...

That is worrisome Benjamin~We aren't on the 'Monarch trail' but, will be bringing home full grown plants from the Native Nursery sale this weekend. Budget be danged. gail

Benjamin Vogt said...

Oh c'mon now Gail, like you really needed a reason to toss the budget? Still, if you need a reason, this one ain't too shabby. :)

Carole Sevilla Brown said...

Benjamin, this is good reason to encourage everyone we know to add some milkweeds to their gardens this year. Thanks for sharing!

Benjamin Vogt said...

Carole--That and milkweed is a just plain insect magnet! :)

Mary said...

I added a lot of milkweed to my garden this year, and caterpillars have eaten it all, and now leaves are coming back again. I've even found a chrysalis in a shrub I was about to cut down...the shrub got a reprieve!

Benjamin Vogt said...

Mary--Shrubs should always get reprieves! So key for birds.