Freshly hatched adult monarch butterfly- third generation. Notice the fresh wings, pristine components. This poor fella was blown away from his chrysalis during a storm and we found him trying to stretch and get moving. We thought it was dead until I noticed how fresh and new he was. A stunningly and amazingly beautiful insect that needs to be put on the endangered species list.
Biggest monarch caterpillar I’ve ever seen. Big well-fed larvae turn into huge healthy aggressive adult butterflies. Last year I planted ONE asclepias incarnata by the roadside sign, and that one plant seeded hundreds more. Its sunny and wet there, exactly what that plant needs to thrive. People driving by must think we dont care about how our nursery looks from the road (it looks a little weedy). Little do they know how many monarchs live and breed in that somewhat weedy-looking patch!
Monarchs also chomp on the seed pod sheath. Dunno why, but there is probably a great scientific reason why, knowing the mysterious monarchs… full of surprises!
Just-emerged monarch resting after hatching. This wanderer will fly 4,000 miles to Mexico. How do he know???
I do not know what kills them. It’s like losing a child when they turn to mush. When I can, I try to identify why.
I know from experience that monarchs never do this. I cut this one open, did an autopsy, and found this:
… little maggots of trachid flies. I now pull the caterpillars off the stock plants and place them on far-flung Asclepias plants that have popped up around the nursery. When target insects are clustered together, it makes it too easy for the pathogen population to find them. It’s TOTAL WARFARE!!!
One chrysalis proudly displayed for all to see took too long to hatch- two weeks. It took on a dark green color. So I ……….. zoomed in really close.
…and saw yet another pathogen I haven’t identified yet that had eaten the helpless guy as he was pupating. As if monarchs don’t have enough problems!!!! I’m gonna figure out how to produce the maximum monarchs on my property at home and at the nursery. Gotta work fast! Why, you ask?
It’s PATHETIC! Last year (2020), in California, they counted 1200 in the entire state. What did the tRUMP administration do? They refused to give the monarch butterflies protection with the endangered species act because it would anger his agricultural donors like the Koch industry (also because tRUMP doesn’t give one iota about the environment).
Come to the nursery, I’ll give you seeds of milkweed to help them survive (but it’s going to take our government to step in with legal protection). Fingers crossed.
Sometimes in life when things “got you down,” something comes along to offer hope.
Such was the case when I saw this chrysalis on a pot that used to be next to the block of Asclepias. I hurriedly moved the giant amsonia over to the firewood pile where I hoped the trachid flies wouldn’t find him/her.
This morning I checked and voila!!! Right on schedule:
Despite all the obstacles to survival, species strive for continuation. Hoping I can post a pic of him/her when it emerges.
Two hours later, I witnessed this for the very first time:
I saw him/her with a very swollen abdomen, pooping some brown liquid, awkwardly unfurling it’s wings.
I moved the little critter to a hydrangea plant so it could feel at home, and it wasn’t long before it took its first flight!!! This one is flying 3,500 miles to the mountains in Mexico where it over winters with what’s left of the monarch population.
Post script: 10-12-21:
11pm last night a friend who I gave five caterpillars to sent me this video of a newly pupating fourth generation monarch who had JUST converted from a caterpillar to a new chrysalis. This is a very rare seldom seen phenomenon:
Sometimes in the course of human events (and gardening), things go downhill fast. Such is the case with perennials. They pop up all nice and fresh every spring, flower, then get attacked by powdery mildew, assorted fungi, nutrient deficiencies, insect holes, spots, lesions, etc.
At the nursery, said plants become totally unsaleable and make us look like we just started the nursery business recently.
It wasn't until a few years ago that I came up with a drastic solution to the "crappy-looking summer perennial" problem.
To address the issue, you must make sure you cut the plant down properly. To do so, be sure to use a pair of scissors or hedge clippers to cut the plant either down to the ground if it is planted, or down to the pot if it is potted. This will ensure that the plant is not continuously putting energy towards it's damages and dead parts, rather towards new growth. This also allows the plant to release growth hormones that were stored towards the bottom of it's foliage. This process can be seen in the following photos.
For reference, this is what it looks like when the plant is not cut enough.
As always, consistent watering and feeding can help prevent this problem but cutting back is a normal process that we do each year, especially approaching the winter. Make sure to keep your perennials fed and hydrated after this process so it can be healthy through the summer months.