Saturday, December 3, 2011

Out and About: Round Lake Nature Notes November 2011

     I have milkweed growing in my yard though I didn't plant it there.  Milkweed seeds are contained in a pod that splits open in the fall.  Each very light seed has a silky fiber parachute attached to it. (During World War Two this fiber was collected to stuff life jackets!  Today the fiber is being used to stuff pillows and comforters as a down alternative).  The wind sends the seeds off to be planted.  Some seeds found themselves in my garden.
    Milkweed.  It is the host plant for monarchs, meaning that it is the one and only plant that monarchs will lay their eggs on so starting another generation of monarchs.  The egg will develop into a caterpillar which will eat the toxic milkweed plant leaves (thus making the adult butterfly nasty tasting to birds and other predators).  The caterpillar will develop a chrysalis which is like a smooth tent where it will form into a butterfly.  In addition, the milkweed plant has flowers providing nectar.
    Last fall, I was driving through the monarch butterfly migration up in Ontario, Canada.  It was not only incredible to see them fluttering for hours over the car as I drove, but to think of their several thousand mile journey across the country to Mexico, as well.  Since then I have been reading up on monarchs, learning about their life cycle, what attracts them to our yards and gardens, and how they fare during their migrations.  A couple of good web sites are the following:, a migration tracking project and, a site about planting milkweed.
    I have learned that the population of monarchs is on the decline.  Habitat loss due to development, use of herbicides, and roadside mowing is occurring in the U.S.  In Mexico, the winter home of monarchs, there is habitat loss from illegal logging of trees in the areas monarchs roost.  This year they had the terrible Texas drought and wildfires to deal with during migration.  Texas nectar sources that the butterflies rely on towards the end of their long journey had shriveled up due to prolonged drought.  Texans reported seeing fewer monarchs than usual.  It appeared that the monarchs were correcting for this dilemma by flying further west but then had to deal with crossing mountains. . . .
    Those milkweed seeds that floated into my yard  grew into  plants and flowered.  They developed seed pods which I collected. I needed a place to plant them that wouldn't be mowed or sprayed.  A few seeds were planted at the Library but I really wanted a field to broadcast them in to create a larger monarch habitat.  I thought of Florence Cruz's property and she agreed to the project.  I needed a few helpers. Scott Peterson and Claire and Elyse Flannery were up to the task.  On Sunday, November twentieth, we broadcasted and pressed into the ground, over a couple of hundred milkweed seeds.  It was fun to see the seeds floating around the field.  While we were doing this  Elyse found plant galls (round growths on plant stems) and is very knowledgeable about how they form.  Just ask her!      We are hopeful that there will be young milkweed plants popping up in the spring.  These plants along with all the flowers in the wonderful gardens throughout town will provide habitat for the monarchs.   You can view pictures of the broadcasting at

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