Mary Beth: Is there anything more amazing than a butterfly, especially a monarch? From its very beginning as a tiny larva, to the chrysalis, to the magnificent winged creature migrating thousands of miles to begin the cycle anew, there isn’t a moment of its life cycle that isn’t breathtakingly beautiful.
Swamp Milkweed grows wild on the back slope of my garden and for the past three years I’ve been encouraging it to expand. It provides food for my honeybees and for the monarch butterflies that call Block Island home. Both of them love it and, although it threatens to take over the back half of my garden, I’ll keep letting it seed itself because it is a valuable food source for these pollinators (monarchs are second only to bees in that category) and a critical link in the life cycle of the monarch.
So I provide food and water for the butterflies, and they give back endless hours of fascination and joy — there’s nothing that lifts my heart more than company of the monarchs as I work in my garden.
In a good butterfly year, the elm trees that separate the garden from the rest of the property will be draped in monarchs, though we haven’t seen this phenomenon for some years now. Wondering why they always come back to that spot, I did a little research and found out that some scientists have speculated that the monarchs might leave a scent on the trees that attracts the next generation.
All summer I watched for signs of the monarchs. First there were the little larvae.
Then they fattened up and became plump caterpillars hungrily munching great chunks of milkweed. (Honestly, between watching the bees and the butterflies, it’s amazing I got any work done.)
Soon milkweed city grew quiet and I started to search for the chrysalis. And I searched and searched. I’d almost given up on that mid-September day when I was sitting in the garden eating grapes. Suddenly a small green capsule caught my eye.
I kept a close watch on the chrysalis for the next couple of weeks.
Gradually it turned dark and I could more clearly see the butterfly folded up inside. I knew it would hatch very soon, so I made sure I always had my camera with me at all times so I wouldn’t miss the big event.
The next day the sky opened up. As it had all summer, it rained buckets. Suddenly, in between downpours, the sun burst through the clouds. I grabbed my camera and ran for the garden. Surely the butterfly wouldn’t hatch in this foul weather.
I missed the hatching, but got beautiful pictures of the minutes-old butterfly. This gorgeous creature, the fourth and longest-lived generation of this season’s monarchs, is on her way to Mexico now. She’ll spend the winter there, reproduce, and finally die.
Vaya con Dios little butterfly. Send your babies back to my garden!
P.S. See our Resources page for links to lots of monarch butterfly information, including how you can make your garden more monarch-friendly.