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Monarchs and Milkweed
I saw a Monarch butterfly yesterday. It was the first I saw all year. I tried to snap a picture, but it fluttered away as I fumbled with my phone. The Monarch holds a special place in my memories. During cherished summers on Block Island, I would spend hours, days pursuing them with my butterfly net. I would trail them on foot, trying to close the distance on their seemingly aimless flight. I would catch a few and keep them for a few hours in a large jar I kept for the purpose. Even then, despite the abundance, I would do my utmost to do no harm. Although I could not have articulated it at the time I saw them as regal ambassadors to a world I admired.
The Monarch is a marvelous species. They follow the same migratory routes year after year, which is amazing considering that four generations of Monarchs complete the 2,500 mile journey. How does each generation know to complete its leg?
The Monarch is not doing well; the reason is twofold. Illegal logging of the Oyamel fir tree in Mexico is destroying the Monarch’s winter habitat. Secondly, the Monarch lay eggs upon milkweed, and it is the caterpillars’ sole food source. Milkweed is a hearty perennial that once grew extensively from Mexico to Canada. Sadly development, monoculture, and herbicides have decimated this vital plant. I find this perplexing; I think it is a rather awkwardly beautiful plant. If it were harder to grow, nurseries might sell it. Different species of milkweed grow small flowers of assorted colors, which are a hit with pollinators of all stripes. When pollinated they look like a slender version of the monster’s head from Little Shop of Horrors. In short, they look slightly alien. Tucked inside are thousands of seeds attached to small silky “feathers.” When the pod opens, they fly to wherever the wind blows. If you would like to help the Monarch, you can order Milkweed seeds.