This last week, I and the kids drove around looking for Blue Vine seed pods. Blue vine is a type of milkweed that climbs. I found some growing on a fence on some public property, and was able to clip some half opened pods, that still contained the wispy seeds of an aesculapius.
I didn't know there was such a plant. I thought I knew what all the different milkweeds were, I had no idea, that there were climbing, vining milkweeds. I waited until now to get the pods, because milkweeds like to be cold treated. Often you have to put the seeds in the freezer for a time, to raise germination rates. The Blue vine type milkweed is unusual in this area, because it's pods stay closed longer, while other milkweed pods dry out quicker and crack open, spilling their contents on the wind long before we see significant drops in temperature.
See the following pages: Blue Vine aka Cynanchum laeve aka Sand Vine by Monarch Watch See also Monarch Watch's interactive page of Milkweeds. Note you can order/buy varieties you want from these pages too.
Dave's Garden has a great page on Blue Vine with lots of information.
Missouri Dept of Conservation has a page dedicated to Blue Vine
A page from JSTOR, the Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society comparing Blue Vine with other Milkweeds, as a larval plant for Monarchs. Very interesting. The regular milkweeds have a higher survival rate for butterflies, but the larvae on Blue Vine develop faster, and are larger.
I confess that I love the green milkweed that grows in Oklahoma. It's a creeper, not a vine, and it has these lush, succulent flowers, that are lime green with maroon stripes. They look like some kind of prehistoric plant. I have tried many times to grow this variety of spider milkweed. No such luck. Some day I will be an expert at growing some kind of milkweed, but so far, today is not that day.
The milkweeds I have tried to move, don't transplant well at all. They just die of shock, and the seeds are stubborn too. I got all excited last year when some popped up wild on the far part of our property near some sumac. I haven't even had luck with store bought milkweed seeds. But I will try again this year with Aesculapius incarnata.
Here are instructional pages on growing milkweeds:
How to Grow Milkweed 1
How to Grow Milkweed 2
How to Grow Milkweed Seeds 3 + seed gathering techniques
That's the funny thing about gardening. You have to be willing to fail over and over before you get things right. Sometimes nature mocks you by throwing her bounty randomly all over the yard, or all over your neighbor's yard, while you struggle in vain to domesticate something that is prolific and yet hated in the wild.
When I was a child, milkweed grew everywhere. I can remember being fascinated by the milky sap that would ooze out when I picked the flowers. It was right up there with horned toads, and hog nosed snakes. It was ubiquitous way back when.
Not like now, where if I see a horny toad or a hog nosed snake, I feel as if I have won the lottery. Farmers hate milkweed. A lot of people who like a manicured lawn hate it too. Especially that green spider milkweed. They kill it with round up and other chemicals, because it pops up where it wants to, disinterested in humanity's desire for order in the field or on the lawn. They hate it because the seeds travel on the wind like dandelion seeds, going for miles to settle wherever the ordered mind wishes they wouldn't.
We have killed so much of the milkweed that Monarchs are left with nothing to lay their eggs on. Although I suspect what remains, what survives in some yards and agricultural areas, is likely tainted with neonicotinoids as well, killing the larva from within, with every bite it takes from contaminated plants, or the parent butterflies with every sip of nectar.
See this Position Statement on Neonicotinoids from the Butterfly Conservationists. Remember this nasty stuff is killing our bees as well, and lady bugs, and other beneficial insects AND birds, soil fawna, amphibians, water invertebrates (like dragon fly and damsel fly larvae) and more
America is getting more crowded, not less, and it is up to us to make sure we plant corridors for migratory species, which includes Monarch butterflies and limit the use of pesticides and herbicides, for our own sake as well as that of the wildlife. Way back when it wasn't unusual to see fields of flowers, varieties that bloomed in at least three seasons. Farmers and ranchers had windbreaks that were thick with blooming weeds. And this was long before your local power company started spraying glyphosphate on the right-of-ways, killing everything from the shoulder of the road to several feet back behind the power poles.
There are a multitude of stories that are out, about the decline of the migratory population of Monarch Butterflies. I don't expect much from the industrial agricultural centers of this country. So often we see the decline of iconic species in the world, often in other countries that we never visit, and it seems the only actions we can take feel very passive and the results far away. But this is right here in our collective backyard. This is an endangered species that you can directly, positively impact right here, right now.
This means that you--the individual home owner, and the guerrilla gardener have the power to create a patchwork of habitats all throughout the migratory corridors for monarch butterflies. And with that in mind, I intend to share what I know, to help those interested in accomplishing just that.
1. Most Americans know that Monarch Butterflies and Milkweed have a relationship. That Monarchs lay their eggs, exclusively on milkweed, and that their caterpillars eat the poisonous plant, making them taste bad to birds and other predators. This in part why Monarchs are brightly colored. It's to warn predators that these bugs are poison.
2. Most Americans know by now that Monarchs are in trouble. But perhaps they feel powerless to help them, because other than growing milkweed, what does one do? Check out what is happening in San Antonio Texas.
Well there are quite a few actions one can take, whether one has property or not. First lets look at the Monarch Migratory Maps. There are two maps: One that shows the direction of the migration from Mexico, and one that shows the direction of the migration back to Mexico. If you live on this route, or if you regularly see monarchs in your area, then the following instructions are for you.
Monarchs need Milkweed to lay their eggs on in the spring and summer, and they need safe places to roost, and water and other nectar sources to feed on until late fall. Here is a page about the Monarch Life Cycle.
That's the big thing--other nectar sources. Many people I have met, erroneously assume that Monarch butterflies only feed on milkweed, in addition to laying their eggs on it. But that's not true. Monarchs will sip nectar from a variety of sources, Milkweed is important for their egg laying, but it only blooms during a certain part of the season, so that means it is not a constant a source of nectar throughout the spring, summer and fall.
Many people also do not understand that the stands of milkweed available really needs to be left undisturbed all year round, especially if you live in the deep South. Butterflies in Southern Texas hatch throughout the year, in spite of ice storms according to some enthusiasts. That means even when it's not blooming. So that if there are eggs on that milkweed, they have time to hatch, and the resultant caterpillars have time to grow to maturity.
And remember, there was a time when there were hectares of milkweed growing wild all over the place. Why are the monarchs declining in numbers? Part of that is that one or two or even 10 milkweed plants aren't enough. We need lots of milkweed for egg laying and larval development, and we need lots of other flowers as nectar sources. Last year's arrival of Monarchs in Mexico was very small and very late. We used to blame fluctuations in the population on illegal logging in the Mexican Monarch sanctuaries, but now we know that it may be more about Round-Ready crops here in the states and in Canada. Between manicured lawns, sterile and uninteresting, and the monocrops in big ag, there is no home, and no nursery for these creatures.
To give you an idea, here is a link to a slideshow of monarch butterflies in Mexico at a roosting site in Oyamel forest.
I have seen trees with 50 or 60 monarchs on them and thought it was a big deal. I have counted a couple hundred in a field at one time, and thought wow, this is what heaven looks like. But I still cannot wrap my mind around what it must be like to stand in the midst of millions of butterflies covering huge trees, like a thick orange and black coat.
See the main page here for Amazing Monarchs.
Many Monarch enthusiasts encourage people to use potted milkweed plants. And then bring them into a covered porch, to let the eggs hatch and the caterpillars mature. This keeps the caterpillars from being preyed upon by wasps, spiders, and even some birds. See link for instructions.
I have also seen people place fine mesh netting over wild milkweed or potted milkweed plants outside, to protect the eggs and caterpillars from predation.
Maybe you don't have time to do all of that. Even if you only provide a puddling dish and a patch of flowers, well hell, that is something. Mother Nature will take what she can get.
So in addition to going pesticide free, here are some of the easiest flowers to grow for monarchs, in addition to the aforementioned milkweeds. I am providing links to favorite seed sources, and varieties.
6. Zinnias: Flower Gift And kind of zinnia will do.
7. Cosmos (these are super easy to grow!)
8. Joe Pye Weed
See also Botanical Interests
The monarchs are in steep decline, our pollinators are all in trouble, and so this requires immediate non-violent action. Plant your seeds kiddies!
Check this page out for instructions on various kinds of seed delivery devices. I am not crazy about the balloon delivery method because it's littering and dangerous for wildlife, but the rest of the ideas are pretty snazzy.
Pick out abandoned lots and fields. The cheapest seeds in the US can be found at places like Dollar Stores, Dollar General, Big Lots etc., Pick varieties listed about and make a mess. Your kids will love it! It's all very subversive and yet harmless. And now is the time to do it. Make your seed balls, and then release them into the feral lands of urban sprawl and road side spots, so that the cold and rain and sun can do their work, helping those seeds germinate without the need for coddling from you or anyone else.
The Center for Food Safety provides an FAQ sheet on helping the Monarchs as well. You can print this up and share it with friends to help get the ball rolling in the correct direction. And you can print this additional FAQ sheet up, which is a list of all the Neonicotinoid products for sale OTC (over the counter) for US Residents. Avoid these products, and save the Monarchs, the Bees, the Birds, the Earthworms and Humans too.
You can help the Monarch right now. It's cheap and easy and within reach. I have 2 flats of seeds right now, germinating. One of wild, green milkweed seeds, and another of store-bought incarnata seeds. I intend to make another flat with blue vine.
Wed Feb 19, 2014 at 5:26 AM PT: Just looking at the map on this fracking piece from Texas and it makes me wonder how the air pollution affects the monarch migration through these areas. Do the monarchs just drop dead or what when they hit these highly polluted areas?
Is this a major chemical hurdle that prevents many migrating butterflies from getting back to Mexico, or perhaps even killing the butterflies before they make it past parts of Texas. Compare the maps in the beginning of this diary--the migratory maps, with the fracking maps at the link provided above. If the air pollution is so thick that it burns the lungs of humans, and kills pets and livestock, what might this magnitude of pollution do to insects? I know that like the honey bee colony collapse disorder, some will say--there are multitude of factors, therefore no one place to lay the blame. But I don't buy that. That just means there are a multiple problems that require solutions or at least mitigating actions to reduce their adverse affects.
Check this video out: An experienced Monarch Enthusiast shows us how to fix broken butterfly wings.
I never knew such a thing was possible.