Friday, September 26, 2014

What Do We Have Here?

     Two months ago I was in the market for a new plant to install in a planter my best friend Nancy gave me many moons ago. It is an old metal bucket out of the mines in, I think, Borax. Any who..., I have had this planter on the side steps of my porch for many years and had a Coral Bells: Marmalade plant in it; the one that looks like fall leaves. So beautiful. But I guess over the years it became root-bound and it eventually died, even with many valiant efforts to keep it going. So I went to one of our local nurseries and poked around until I came upon a plant with bright long, shiny, green leaves and pretty clusters of red flowers with tiny yellow flowers seemingly protruding from the middle of said red flowers. (It's called Tropical Milkweed, picture to the right.)
 I took the nursery lady's word that it like water (it sits in line with one of my sprinklers) and that the Monarch butterflies like it. "That's cool," I said. "I like to attract small wildlife when ever I can." "Well," she said, "This'll do it."
          Now, I must add here that we live just about a mile from one of the major migration layovers for the Monarch. They spend the summer down in Mexico and come up into different spots in the United States, one of them being nearby Pismo Beach, and stay here from November to February.
     My plant was doing fine but, about a month ago I noticed, when I came home one day, several Monarchs feasting on the nectar of the flowers. Oh, I thought, that lady was right, they do like these flowers. I watched for about 10 minutes, afraid to disturb them. They hung around for a couple of days, on and off, and then they were gone. Well, I thought, maybe as the plant gets bigger next year, more will come. Won't that be nice?
     Three days ago, as I was walking up my steps, I noticed that there were some small holes in some of the leaves of the plant. Hmmm, What was eating my plant? I looked closer and, lo and behold, there was one of these critters on the underside of one of the leaves. A pretty little caterpillar, but it really wasn't very little. It was about 2" long. I took a picture, meaning to look it up on line. I showed my husband the picture and he looked it up and we realized it was a Monarch caterpillar. Within two days the plant was full of them. In a count this morning I found over 2 dozen of these babies on that plant, happily munching away at the leaves and the seed pods.
     I don't think they will kill the plant but they are stripping the leaves from the stems, leaving the hard husks of the seed pods and the main veins of the leaves to wither. But they are not invading the main stems or the new growth at the bottom of the plant (unless they just haven't gotten there yet!) According to the web site they are fattening up to go into the next stage: chrysalis. Here's the cycle:
Sept/Oct - the 4th generation is born - egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, adult butterfly . . . but THIS generation does not die. It MIGRATES south and lives 6-8 months in Mexico or Southern California. They begin awakening and mating in February/March of the NEXT SPRING, and then lay their eggs! Withered and tattered from their migration and hibernation . . . they finally die.  
     So I guess we are hosts to this 4th generation; the one that lives the longest! We are going to be seeing the chrysalis develop soon. And then we will have to track the days (10) and watch them emerge. I can hardly wait. What a cool thing to be a part of. I will gladly forfeit the plant and plant dozens more next year if this is the outcome. Mother nature puts on a great show!

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