Saturday, May 27, 2017

Milkweed and Monarch Therapy

Milkweed and Monarch Therapy

Slope Flowers Looking Northeast
This field of Coreopsis at Provision Living at Columbia in the spring of 2017 is the result of two years of succession; the natural process of plants competing. The first arrivals in the area create the conditions for other species to thrive. 

It is beautiful to most people. At $7 per plant in a nursery, this is what several thousand dollars looks like today and for several months to come.

The beauty was so overpowering that two caregivers made table decorations for memory care.
Table 1
Table 2

Table 3
Table 4

These decorations cost about $20 each from a florist. They last about a week.                         

What happens on this slope will also now follow two paths with very different costs. Past tradition is a bulldozer, haul in good dirt, and plant whatever is in fashion. This is high maintenance. Water, water, and water. Only a few people can now afford to live in an artificial world that defies succession year around.

The new tradition is to learn what belongs here; what has evolved to thrive here. Engineering is being replaced with husbandry. Invasive non-native plants must be carefully removed. Engineering still plays a role in killing everything above ground and starting succession over again.

[However this construction site filled a valley over 70 feet deep with an 18-foot mound on top. Any seed bearing soil was either removed or deeply buried. What is growing here now comes from a prairie seed mix applied in the fall of 2015; and a truck load of dirt added on top of the mound (the lighter area on the east side of the property). Succession then starts with this seed mix and dirt containing unknown species.] 
Pre-Provision Living at Columbia (Mapquest)
Provision Living at Columbia (2017)

The contractor did not clear, in any way, a three-acre area along the north boarder that was approved for clearing. This kept the view of neighbors from the north being a fortress on a hill and kept the view of residents in the building as a natural woods on the cliff side (with no extra charge).

A Couple of Plants
The sloping field of yellow Coreopsis points out the need for a canvas of appropriate size for each desired effect; thousands on a hillside, a dozen in a vase, and only one or two plants in a garden or a small naturalized area.         

Our next job is then to remove any undesired plants and to add plants that can compete with little maintenance. Each plant has more interactions with the environment than just its contribution to the beauty of a landscape.

The milkweed is a good example. There is one species where one plant can feed many monarch butterfly caterpillars. There are several that are ornamental and currently becoming popular in landscaping. It may take several of these to feed one caterpillar; that is, if they have not been treated with a pesticide to protect the landscape investment ($7 to $37 plus planting).

[Treated plants kill the caterpillars. The expensive beautiful poisoned plants become death traps. An attempt to help, has the opposite effect! The eggs are wasted. Poisoned host plants reduce the population of monarchs.]
Milkweeds Ready for Fall Migration Monarch Generation

My wife and I raised, indoors, enough monarchs, on our two best years, to tag 100 butterflies. Each year one was found in Mexico. We had over 300 healthy common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) plants each year. [The author of the scientific name thought the common milkweed, a native of North America, came from Syria.] 

The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary would return to a forest if left alone; just as it did when the fields were no longer farmed in the past. Milkweeds would be a part of that succession. In time the native trees would prevail; as they did before being cleared for the current use of the land. A stable, climax, community would return. There would be few if any milkweeds. But this will not happen.

Non-native invasive species now disrupt normal succession. Invasive species crowd out, out compete, other species; other plants and the animals that feed on them. Diversity is reduced. We need to manage succession in such a way that milkweeds can thrive in a stable environment.

My understanding is that this is not difficult for this plot of land. Just mow in the spring and again in the fall, at the proper time; before the milkweeds are up in the spring and after the plants are going dormant in the fall (drought, freeze, or deer).

Crown Vetch from Top of Coreopsis Field
The Community Conservationist for the City of Columbia provided invasive species literature on crown vetch and bush honeysuckles. The crown vetch has been pulled from the sloping field of Coreopsis (some root parts still remain). The deer are feeding down the crown vetch on the upper flat northeast area. Both of these areas will require repeated inspections and plant removal until crown vetch is no longer in the community.

The bush honeysuckles are on neighboring property. Their invasive behavior can be managed by mowing, by removing seedlings and by having neighbors replace them with native alternatives. Native Alternatives to Bush Honeysuckle by Alan Branhagen in the spring 2017 Missouri Prairie Journal, Volume 38/Number 1.

A plant survey will determine what is growing now in all areas from the 2015 seeding and new dirt. These plants then serve as indicators of what other plants to add for a stable, low maintenance environment that includes milkweeds, and nectar plants; that turns a weedy area into more than a monarch rearing milkweed patch. It becomes an attractive self-sustainable sanctuary for monarch caterpillars and butterflies, and other pollinators. Residents can have a hand in growing plants for many years.

Milkweed seedlings were provided by the city of Columbia, May 19, from Monarch Watch. Memory Care residents transplanted the 50 plugs under the direction of Danielle Fox, Community Naturalist. The resident's active participation and expectations of what is yet to come was a well-intended result of this project.

Meanwhile we can wait for the fall monarch butterfly migration to lay eggs and feed on these plants. This generation will then fly to Mexico. The plants will then be put out on the sanctuary this fall where they can go dormant and be ready to bloom in 2018; ready for the spring monarch butterfly migration heading again toward Canada.

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