As we walk through our gardens we often discover plants that have been destroyed by some bug or pest. It is interesting when we change our perspective. A chewed leaf can be turned into a clue about a beautiful visitor to our garden. In small urban places we still have many beautiful visitors. I took this picture of decimated milkweed that grows in a very unique place in our garden. This unique space is a tented garden at Theodore Judah Elementary that we fondly call the flower jungle or the butterfly pavilion. These sticks may look bare and ugly, but they are a sign that some of our favorite creatures have been eating their fill.
In the special pavilion we raise Monarchs each year. It is an amazing experience for students to observe the entire life cycle. We start with live butterflies and then allow them to lay eggs on the milkweed. You may not know that many butterfly species select only one plant to host their eggs. This plant is called the host plant for this species. It is our urban spaces that have destroyed much of the needed habitat for Monarchs. Milkweed can grow anywhere that is left to reseed. It is a weed, but it is also beautiful, both when it is flowering and when it is producing seed. To attract a particular butterfly, you must have this host plant. These Monarch caterpillars treat the milkweed like you or I might treat a large ice cream sundae. In fact I have read that a caterpillar will eat 2,700 times its original weight.
The reason I love to see these well eaten plants is that it means these plump caterpillars will be full enough to form their chrysalis. If you have never seen one, it is a beautiful green jewel. It truly is mind boggling. The chrysalis has this fabulous gold stitching on it. I don’t understand how? Finding chrysalises is a tremendous adventure. They are well camouflaged. A scavenger hunt for chrysalis can keep children engaged for a long time. Actually, it can keep adults engaged too. This last week we had a large number of butterflies emerge in our pavilion, busting out of now translucent chrysalis. By late in the day we 12 new Monarchs fluttering around our garden. We were lucky enough to have a parent filming and he caught a butterfly emerging. The following link will allow you to see this (and to hear the kids in the background). We don’t always have a place of natural peace for these creatures, but they are well admired and cared for of course. This is the link to view the video http://youtu.be/NAYYxRho9a4.
I have so much to share about our butterflies this fall but I think I will stop here and encourage you to take a last look before fall moves in to winter. You may have those last hearty creepy crawlers in your yard. Your kids would be happy to find them. I will give you a strong hint, if you have cabbage, broccoli or cauliflower and the sun is out, you have cabbage white butterflies. All those leaves that have been eaten through……… will you tent one and observe it? Or….. will you smash that green caterpillar and save the broccoli. It is a debate, I know. I just want to encourage all those desiring to teach our kids to reconnect with the natural urban world, there are two sides to everything. One bare broccoli plant might lead to some rich learning.
If you want to hear some great stories about our butterfly releases see the next blog, until then go caterpillar hunting.