A few years ago I caught a NOVA special about Monarch Butterflies. As the opening PBS credits were rolling by I remembered two encounters I had with these odd creatures.
I remember growing up in Cleveland, working with my mom in her “square foot” style veggie garden which also had lots of flowers growing in it. These giant orange and black butterflies would visit the flowers and my mom and I would always notice, comment and delight. I thought the term Monarch was a little overblown because they seemed kind of clumsy and floppy even though they were so striking and lovely.
In 2001 my husband and I moved to Austin, TX and I had an office job that I hated. I was sitting outside at lunch and noticed a Monarch Butterfly soaring above the 6 story building where I worked. What the hell? I didn’t know they could fly like that. I thought about the butterfly all afternoon. Now the name made more sense.
Back to the Nova special… I had heard that the butterflies migrated but I didn’t know anything about it. Turns out the fly all the way from Canada to Mexico, many of them crossing the great lakes on their way. I have a major soft spot for Lake Erie, and knowing that every year butterflies fly all the way accross it blew my mind. My mom lives just a mile or so from the shore so no wonder we saw so many floppy butterflies- maybe they were totally pooped from flying accross the lake!
When the butterflies get into Austin they start to fly together in big groups. I have been lucky enough to see a few of these groups come through Austin, one huge group on particular came through my neighbor’s yard when his Golden Raintrees were blooming. There were so many of them that I could hear their wings flapping and the trees rustling with their weight. It was so weird.
I found my way from Cleveland to Austin in my life, and knowing that the Monarchs make a similar, but longer, and more harrowing journey endeared them to me even more. I feel so much love for them that I am planting my front yard with plenty of plants for them including as many milkweeds as I can find. Check out my news segment about the Monarchs at Natural Gardener! Have you seen any Monarchs this year?
Habitat loss from widespread use of herbicides and pesticides due to GMO crops in the argircultural midsection of the US is one cause of a major decline in Monarch numbers in recent years. Please plant some milkweed, limit your pestiside use and go organic!