This situation with Monarch butterflies is serious and getting serious-er. And just imagine if our Presidential candidates have to express their views on it? The Donald might propose building a wall, but it would be a beautiful wall…maybe orange and black stripes?
This snowy morning I opened the newspaper to find:
- a story about California’s drought: 600,000 acres of farmland will receive no water from reservoirs or canals this year because there is no water in them. What a weather disaster. It’s a drought fifteen years in the making but made worse by Arctic melting which allows heat to escape into the atmosphere and park as a high pressure ridge off the California coast, forcing rain to go way north. The water resources are strained, of course, by the water needs of California’s population and housing growth. This made me think, “Plant More Vegetables in the Garden this Year.” And, “Despite all the snow, we are just coming out of drought. Lake Michigan is still historically low so turn off the lawn sprinklers…”.
- a story about the huge (82,000 tons! tons! More than Love Canal!) coal ash spill by Duke Energy into the usually beautiful 200-mile Dan River in Raleigh, North Carolina. Really, coal companies? Again? Didn’t we just go through the same thing in West Virginia? Don’t we all know that we cannot invent the precious asset of water? California certainly believes water is its #1 priority. Texas legislators agreed to take $2B of their oil revenue to build water infrastructure. We as a nation must stand tall and keep clean what remaining water we have, including by guaranteeing that private infrastructure is in good repair or that septics are replaced with high caliber water treatment facilities. [By the way, Duke is a huge conglomerate which in November, 2013, paid out $1 million in penalties for knowingly violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act when it killed 14 golden eagles and dozens of other birds in the way it constructed a wind turbine farm in Wyoming.] And this company is run by two women–where are their values? I expect better of gals…
- and a story about President Obama attending a summit this coming week with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico, Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, and other North American leaders in Toluca, Mexico, just an hour’s drive from the mountains where Monarch butterflies overwinter. The world’s science and writing community is asking the leaders to pay attention to this area because of the ecological havoc we’ve created for Monarchs (ie non-human migrants). The butterfly area HAS SHRUNK TO 1.19 HECTARES (yes, you read it right) from 45 hectares (1 hectare=2.5 acres) in 1996. While the area has been greatly deforested despite the creation of a biosphere (it gets “timber poached”), the small and shrinking habitat size actually means something else. It means that very few Monarchs arrived from the United States last year. Why? Because we Americans converted 15 million MORE acres of land to RoundUP Ready corn and soybeans, so every time we spray the corn we kill the Common milkweed–which grows best in disturbed areas like (hold it, get ready) CORNFIELDS!
Here’s some “guerrilla” efforts for you to do if you feel otherwise helpless to fight the biggest issues confronting Monarchs:
First, spare one hour of your time (oh, stop complaining and just do it) and watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fh42KGh-TkE. This is a lecture by Univ of Kansas professor Chip Taylor, who started Monarch Watch. I learned so much from this video–it totally explains what’s happening to the Monarchs. It also made me a much more aware (and activist) conservationist. This is required viewing. Please let me know of your reaction.
Second, write The White House. Michelle has a symbolic garden…does it have Milkweed in it? Also, the US can give Mexico some money so locals don’t cut the trees for firewood. Ask the President to direct the US Dept of Transportation to “rescue” an acre of roadside milkweed habitat for every acre the US Depts of Agriculture and Energy allow to be destroyed to plant corn and soybeans for biofuel production. In addition, ask the USDA to stop calling Milkweed, “weedy and invasive”, on its website. Last, amend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to include Butterflies.
Second, ask your Garden Club, wildflower group, botanic garden, and your self whether you have planted enough pollinator plants in your garden and community. Create a Monarch Waystation. Put a sign up and register it, for science sake. Understand the lifecycle of a Monarch. Stop calling Milkweed, “weedy and invasive”, on gardening and botanic garden websites! Watch Weedpatch subscribers (yeah!) Mike Nowak and Jennifer Brennan in this video as they visit an incredible butterfly garden (including a screened enclosure) in Chicago.
Third, are you a landscape designer? Have you specified Common Milkweed [Asclepsias syriaca] in your clients’ drawings, especially for large commercial or industrial projects? Take part in the “Bring Back the Monarchs Campaign”. Not only will you be helping butterflies, but you will be storing a lot of water on site. Milkweed is very drought tolerant because it has very long roots. Planting it means far less run-off from properties.
Fourth, join scientists AND the children of North America in tracking the migration of butterflies and lots of other critters (hummingbirds, robins, bald eagles, orioles, whoopers) and the emergence of Milkweed and Tulips–thus keeping track of spring. Enter the existence of your “climate test garden” into the database. Have fun and help the world’s wildlife (scientists use your data to understand the geographic dispersal of species) by using this cool website: http://www.learner.org/jnorth/maps/Maps.html
Fourth, send a few bucks to groups like Forests for Monarchs, which uses every donated dollar to plant two conifers and teach sustainable forestry in Mexico. Twenty dollars means forty new trees. Sweet!##
“Do Deer Like Milkweed”?
This is a query received from a Weedpatch reader named Patti S. I LOVE questions from readers because finding answers is my way of avoiding working on any essential tasks (like earning money or calling the health insurance company). Very oddly, the question reminded me that I had recently bought a used book, The Hidden Life of Deer, by naturalist/anthropologist, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, but had not yet read it. So, now’s the time, right? Honest to God, I randomly opened the book to page 186 and immediately saw the word, “Monarch”. Could I really have an answer so quickly? Well, no, but I did read four riveting pages of Thomas’ observations of a Monarch caterpillar on a Milkweed leaf. Which left me with the question, “Do caterpillars shit only on leaves they don’t nibble”?
But I digress. Next, I googled. Whereupon I came upon a lot of other people looking to answer the same question, but also found my new favorite website, homesteadingtoday.com, which appears to be about as blue state/red state in its opinions as Americans can be. There I read comments claiming that Milkweed is “a noxious weed, just like kudzu” and how best to eradicate it with 2-4D but followed by polite suggestions from obvious blue staters like, “couldn’t you leave just a little bit for the butterflies?”. I also read how Grandpa considered Milkweed to be his cash crop during WWII cuz he sold the waterproof and buoyant floss for stuffing in life jackets and flight suits (methinks Grandpa did not get rich but this CSM article about its WWII uses is REALLY interesting). Then I read that Milkweed “never bothered the cattle”. And that Milkweed should be planted by the front door because it draws bees but the bees “keep the door knockers away”. The same commentator, “Alleyyooper”, answered Patti’s question this way: “Deer like it like a horse eats oats”. H’mmm…
But methinks that Alleyyooper is wrong about the grazing deer. “Milkweed” is MILKweed for a reason (actually, let’s rename it “Silkweed”, much more attractive name). Milkweed refers to its “white juice, which is a kind of rubber”. (Recall that Thomas Edison tried to use it to replace rubber in making car tires. True.). Here’s more from a 1911 book, Handbook of Nature Study, (buy it!) recommended to me by botanist Jerry Wilhelm:
“The most striking peculiarity of the milkweed plant is its white juice. Let a drop of it dry on the back of the hand, and when we try to remove it we find it quite elastic and possessed of all the qualities of crude rubber. We can see that the hollow of the center of the stem has around it a dark green ring, and that outside this is a light green ring. It is from the dark green ring that the milk exudes. The juice will soon fill and heal the wound we made. This milk is not the sap of the pine; it is a special secretion, and is very acrid to the taste. Milkweed is seldom eaten by grazing animals…”.
I tested the Milkweed myself, including trying to sniff for its “strong odor” which I thought might deter the deer. I couldn’t smell any odor, although I thought I detected a soft vanilla scent. Deer cookies? Anyhoo, this is what I think. If you were a deer grazing in a salad bowl of vegetation, you might bite off a Milkweed occasionally, but if you got a mouthful of white sticky latex on your tongue every time you would definitely prefer to eat something else. Like a hosta. So, dear Patti, plant the milkweed and watch to see what the deer do to it. Get back to us, okay?
And to alleyyooper–if a horse eats too many oats, a horse gets sick. Same with Milkweed and deer. Please plant milkweed. Make a butterfly come alive.##