For the past six years I have been planting native milkweed to attract Monarch butterflies. We are in the migration path for their annual trek from Mexico to California and because of the over population of our area their natural food source, the milkweed plant, is disappearing at alarming rates, having a negative impact on these lovely and amazing creatures.
For many years I never saw any sign of them and so I moved the milkweed around the yard and even planted them in different spots. It did take a few years to see any signs of butterflies at all after the yard had pretty much been cultivated with pesticides and chemicals for years by the previous owners, but finally life started to return.
Last year I wasn't in the garden much due to a knee injury, but one day when I was out walking around I noticed some strange, bare sticks protruding out of the ground. It took me a while to realize it was what was left of the milkweed plants that I had planted the previous fall! I was excited that there was hope that the Monarchs had found the food source I had left out for them and devoured it, although any sign of them was long gone.
Last weekend I was out digging up iris tubers (I know, I'm way off sync) and a pretty orange and black butterfly flitted by me. I always assume any orange and black butterfly I see is a Gulf Fritillar because we have lots of them and they love the passion flower vines which I grow. But I watched it head over to the patch of milkweed as if it was directing my attention there and then it was off. I climbed through the flower bed over to the milkweed and there they were, about a dozen Monarch caterpillars of all sizes, munching away on the plants! We have been watching them all week, growing in size, then disappearing, crawling off (I hope) to form a chrysalis on a nearby leaf or twig. Today when I went out the five plants were all but stripped of all foliage and there were still tiny caterpillars just emerged still looking for food. There should be another "crop of butterflies in a couple months so maybe I should get some more milkweed in the ground before then! There are actually three short-lived (two to six weeks) generations of butterflies that hatch in one area before a "super" generation that make the migration hatch. That generation lives six to eight months to make the migration to warmer climates in the fall. Well, I'm glad they finally found my little patch of food I planted for them and I figure if they can migrate thousands of miles to find the exact same mating place through generations, they'll be able to find my little milkweed patch every year too!