Our Queen of the Monarchs

I did not inherit my parents green thumbs and normally have little interest in our garden………..about a year ago a Curves friend, Alice, invited me to a Monarch Butterfly Way station dedication open house at the home of a man named Mr. Huey’s……….what is that?  Not really sure but thought my grandchildren might enjoy it so I took 3 little ones and off we go to Culver City, CA to the open house.  In his yard there were many examples of the caterpillars, chrysalises, and milkweed and lots of information about the dire straits of the Monarch butterfly due to the destruction of their habitat.  I went by the local nursery later that week and picked up 4 milkweed plants (about $8 each)—2 for me and 2 for Alice (I was not aware that 2 plants are not enough).  I set them out and pretty much forgot about them.  This was in April, 2007.   
A seed was planted deep in the recesses of my mind and when I was just fed up with the way garden was looking that faces the Venice Canals, I hired a landscaper to make a redo.  He asked me what I wanted to plant and somehow, “A Monarch Butterfly habitat” popped out of my mouth. 
In November we started with 10 milkweed plants plus a dozen or so other flowering plants while keeping my rosemary plants and my lemon tree. The area is 4’ x 30 feet south facing.  The next day after the plants were all in, I invited Alice to see the garden.  She was the one that looked at one of the first milkweed plants and saw to our amazement 7 caterpillers……I had planted the 10 other just in time because Milkweed is the only plant the caterpillars will eat and they would have soon eaten that one plant and would have then starved to death.
Soon enough I was able to enjoy Monarch butterflies dropping by daily and I have been able to photograph their life stages.  It has brought me such joy to be able to check on them every day and watch their progress—from little tiny caterpillars to big fat ones---I have even seen them shed their skins (and one big caterpillar trying to discourage a little one from coming on to his leaf by kind of hitting at it)……I have seen several of the chrysalis and have even seen one butterfly soon after it emerged……I suspect I have seen well over 100 caterpillars.  They only eat the milkweed (so you don’t have to worry about them eating your other plants) and eat they do.  I have since added 8 more milkweed plants because several have not regenerated after being completely denuded.  It has been such a joy and I share my joy with my neighbors and all sorts of tourists who stroll by our garden.  See Paula's photos on the left.
The following is from the website www.monarchwatch.com
Each fall, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada to overwintering areas in Mexico and California where they wait out the winter until conditions favor a return flight in the spring. The monarch migration is truly one of the world's greatest natural wonders, yet it is threatened by habitat loss in North America - at the overwintering sites and throughout the spring and summer breeding range as well.
See the website for more information.

I cannot tell you the joy that my garden has given me…..I check on my little guys every day and am spreading the word…..our local community organization is clearing and planting a city owned derelict lot into a Monarch Butterfly Way station due to my enthusiasm.
The plants mainly need a sunny location-good irrigation to start.  They develop seed pods that produce more plants and they are very easy to grow…..if I can grow them anyone can.
I am not sure yet about the life cycle but the web site (which is from the University of Kansas) says they need the spring and summer plants to make it and that is across the US and Canada.  There are different varieties of Milkweed so you will need to find the ones that are native to your own area.  And you can order seeds from their site.  You just have to make sure that you have enough plants for them once they find you.
So far in my own garden it appears that the caterpillars eat for about 2 weeks, the chrysalis about 2 weeks or more depending upon how warm it is and I don’t know if my butterflies are going on to Mexico or not…..they really haven’t told me their travel plans but I don’t have to insure them, or teach them their manners…….they are really the best garden enjoyment that I have ever had….paula