The Twelve Days of a Green Christmas – Seventh Day

milkweed-plant

On the seventh day of Christmas my green friend gave to me…seven milkweed plants…a six pack of beer…five pairs of slippers…four chocolate bars…three holly trees…two vent fans…and a new doorbell!

Over the past couple years my green friend has given me a total of 7 milkweed plants.  Because they are self-sowing I had an abundance of plants and which attracted a lot of monarch butterflies this past year!  I loved watching the monarchs as well as different species of butterflies visiting my yard!  After Hurricane Matthew passed through town in October I was lamenting to my green friend how sad I was to have lost all my milkweed plants and how I would need to plant a new butterfly garden this year.

milkweed-plant
Milkweed Plant
Photo: Stan Shebs

Although not native to Florida, the Asclepias curassavica plant, aka milkweed or butterfly plant, is a favorite nectar source for monarch butterflies and an important food source for their caterpillars. Sadly the monarch butterfly population has declined at an alarming rate over the past several years.

So why the declining butterfly population you wonder? With stronger and more toxic chemicals added to pesticides and lawn fertilizers milkweed fields have disappeared from our landscapes, most importantly in the Midwest, as agricultural cornfield areas have increased their use of GM (genetically modified) corn seeds and herbicides to intentionally kill milkweed. To add to their plight and bringing it down to a more “local” level, many homeowners think the milkweed plant is a nuisance “weed” and do not want it in their manicured landscapes so lawn services rid their yards of these beneficial plants. Other thoughts on the declining population include climate change, increased use of genetically modified plant seeds/plants use and illegal logging and deforestation in Mexico.

fall-migration-patterns-of-monarch-butterflies
fall migration patterns of monarch butterflies. Base map source: USGS National Atlas

Many don’t realize how far generations of Monarch butterflies migrate in fall and then head north in warmer months.  Monarchs in Eastern North America have a second home in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico! They only fly during the day and will colonize at night at a favorite roost. Often pine, fir and cedar trees are chosen for roosting. These trees have thick canopies that moderate the temperature and humidity at the roost site. Monarchs traveling south congregate on peninsulas. The shape of the peninsula funnels the migrating butterflies. At its tip, the monarchs find the shortest distance across open water. They congregate along the shore to wait for a gentle breeze to help them across. It is on their journey north when the weather warms up that they lay their eggs for the next generation of migrating monarchs.

Watch this beautiful video of the monarch migration on the Google Earth Tour and learn even more about these fascinating creatures! Because all the migrating monarchs are concentrated in just a few locations during the winter, they are especially vulnerable to harsh weather and to human activities that disrupt or destroy their habitat. So, knowing all this you can understand why your garden with butterfly plants is so important and will help these beautiful creatures along their journey north or south! Did you know there are several organizations whose volunteers work hard “tagging” monarch butterflies? Also many people report their sightings of monarchs on their migratory routes to help these studies. If you would like to get involved or report any sightings visit this USDA Forest Service site.

Monarch Butterfly
Photo: Wikipedia

Monarch butterflies are not only valuable for aesthetic reasons but butterflies and moths are also valuable indicators of our environmental health and a healthy ecosystem! They are an important element in the food chain and are prey for birds, bats and other insectivorous animals.

My green friend knows I love butterflies and am very concerned about the declining population of monarch butterflies so 7 milkweed plants will be a great addition to my front and backyards! I want to experience hundreds of monarchs coming into my yard and laying eggs! Have you planted any milkweed plants or do you plan to plant some in 2017?

If this is the first post you have read of my green rendition of the Twelve Days of a Christmas and you can’t figure out what the heck I am writing about or why I’m writing about the Twelve Days after Christmas, click here to read how this all began. I hope you join me tomorrow for the Eighth Day of a Green Christmas!

 

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