Sunday, September 17, 2017
There are numerous signs that the season is about to change. Fallen leaves from the wild cherry trees that line our lane are among the earliest signals. Now lawn maple trees are coating the green with the brown of dropped leaves. A more pleasant sign is the flowers of the asters. Purple ray flowers with golden centers make the New England Aster a personal favorite. It is a common roadside weed here but that fact did not prevent me from bringing it into the gardens. Wild specimens are frequently limited to a single stalk or two but given care and fertile ground, monsters follow.
A perfect natural color combination places Goldenrod and New England Asters together. In this instance both are growing as weeds that have taken over a planting bed. These are slated for removal soon as we try to take back tended ground.
This is a natural color mutation in the New England Aster. These line the roadside ditches on the route we drive several times each week. We were tempted to steal a plant or two but that goes against our standards of behavior. After a long wait, one of these plants simply appeared here. Patience and divisions have increased our holdings to five substantial clumps.
The proper name of this wild plant is not known to us. It grows in several different locations here. Placed along the edge of an abandoned pasture in full sunlight, this plant towers over me. Located in the nearly full shade alongside of the lane severely limits the size of this plant. If we gather together the various asters that grow here we can expect runaway growth. As problems go that is not a bad one to have.
This light blue variety's name eludes us. It also grows at the edge of our shady lane.
This photo clearly shows the down side of having goldenrod and asters planted together. Goldenrod simply overruns an area quickly becoming the only plant growing there. One season of repeated mowing eliminated the goldenrod. There are places where it grows in the gardens that makes digging it out without damaging the desired plants impossible We will try repeated total pruning to eliminate it there. Here on the sloped ground adjacent to the fields it simply grows unchecked.
We found the air filled with bright new Monarch Butterflies today. These did not display the behavior typical of migrating butterflies so we feel that they were recently formed here. The goldenrod serves as their major food source since many of the other flowers are no longer in bloom. For the benefit of the Monarchs, we encourage milkweed growth and tolerate the invasive nature of the goldenrod.
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
We are located near the northern limits of the Monarch Butterfly's natural range. They come here to lay the eggs that will create the butterflies that will complete the migration flight to Mexico. Milkweed is encouraged to grow here as a food source for the caterpillars. Left to follow its natural cycle, milkweed flowers just after school is out for the summer. That is about the time that the first Monarchs appear here. They do feed on the milkweed flowers but they also feed on many other flowers. It is the milkweed leaves that are critically important to the survival of the butterflies. They, and their near relatives, are the only source of acceptable food for the caterpillars. My concern has focused on the fact that the plants are nearly spent when the caterpillars need a food source.
My interference in the natural order is to mow several acres of former farm fields that now grow milkweed. A mowing or two force the milkweed plants to start growing again. This creates bright green young leaves suitable for caterpillar food. We have seen female butterflies depositing their eggs on the underside of these new leaves. This is a high point in our summer since we feel that we are helping this threatened species survive at least just a little longer.
A recent walk among the insects revealed this robust looking caterpillar feeding on an old tough nearly dead leaf. It would appear that the normal order is working just fine without our help. Reality aside, I will likely continue to mow the milkweed fields creating extensive stands of young plant growth.
This egg hatched in our garden. Despite milkweed's extensive deep root system, we continue to allow far too many plants to claim parts of our garden beds. Butterflies and their caterpillars add greatly to the events unfolding in our gardens. Wire fence is hardly a natural site for the transformation from worm to butterfly to occur but that location is commonly used here. A casual walk in the garden recently revealed a newly emerged butterfly drying its wings while clinging to a section of wire fence.
This chrysalis formed on a grass leaf. We are working to clear our planting areas before the weeds drop their seed load. This natural treasure went unnoticed until the leaf had been pulled. Becky used her weaving skills to attach the leaf to a piece of wire fence. Orange and black color patterns can be seen on the developing butterfly. We hope to soon see this new butterfly fly free. In this instance if the weed had simply been thrown on the compost pile the butterfly would probably have perished. As far as mowing milkweed is concerned, our interference may not be necessary but we choose to think that the survival rate for caterpillars feeding on new leaves may be higher than those eating nearly dead leaves.