Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Prince & Princess—and a Monarch too

A Prince--or Princess?
I must be a monarchist.  I’ve been concerned all summer because hundreds of butterflies were in our gardens—but not one Monarch.  I read emails from Master Gardeners questioning why the Monarchs had disappeared: Misuse of pesticides or herbicides?  Natural cycle?  Deforestation of Monarch wintering grounds in Mexico?  Some unknown factor?

One posting left open some hope—saying that perhaps the Monarchs were just late in migrating from their northern territories and would be migrating through later than usual.  So I kept looking for a Monarch among the many butterflies visiting our coneflowers and zinnias and at our five plantings of milkweed—Asclepias tuberosa and Asclepias incarnata—the host plant on which Monarchs lay their eggs and on which their caterpillars feed.

For weeks I found nothing.  Not good, I worried.

And then about 10 days ago I found two Monarch caterpillars chomping on milkweed leaves when I checked our two Asclepias incarnata plants, gifts of Corliss G., a Howard County Master Gardener, during an exchange of perennials. I promptly named them Princess and Prince—true offspring of Monarchs.  But where were the adults—flying about in Eastern Tiger Swallowtail disguises?

A visiting Monarch
Then for two days last week a Monarch—or was it two?—visited the blossoms of our backyard zinnias and coneflowers.

Two Monarch caterpillars and an adult or two!  I’m relieved, but how relieved should I be when I should have expected to find 10 caterpillars and seen a score of adults?

Here’s hoping I see scores of Monarchs in Summer 2014.  In the meantime, I’m thinking that perhaps I should consolidate our far-flung milkweed plantings into one or two larger beds to encourage the beautiful insects to stop here at Meadow Glenn for some fast food on their annual travels.

P.S.  Today’s (Sept. 12) Local Living section of the Washington Post contains three articles by Adrian Higgins on butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.  Click on the blue to go to “Creating a haven for butterflies and bees” (subsections on Monarchs, Honeybees, Bumblebees, and Pesticides); “Planting and gardening for pollinators” (breaks down common pollinator-supporting plants into these lists: “Milkweeds,” “Trees and shrubs,” “Herbs,” and “Perennials” and then Spring, Summer, and Fall bloomers); and “Tips on beekeeping” ( lists local beekeeper organizations).


  1. Bob, I have been very concerned about the monarch too. I 'rear' them and last year I released 19! I saw one small female about 3 weeks ago and though she seemed interested in the milkweed, I have not found any eggs or caterpillars. Today I saw one monarch on our fig tree. If they are late, this is very very late. And with the drought we are experiencing, it does not bode well... My first siting of caterpillars was a week ago when I did a Bay-Wise presentation at the Miller library. There I saw 4 very mature caterpillars! Yes, there is hope, guarded hope.
    Irene MacD.

  2. Bob,

    I haven't seen many this year either. If I had to hazard a guess, I would guess that our late cool/cold spring caused a late migration.

  3. Bob,

    Thanks for returning to writing. Keep it up, please.