Tag Archives: milkweed

The Mixed Summer of the Monarch


milkweed

In June, one kind of Milkweed in my gardens in bloom. I have at least three different varieties growing now.

Last year, for the first time, I had a several Milkweed plants that got established in my gardens.

This year, I was surprised that the common Milkweed that got established last year didn’t bloom—but the plants did come back and did grow larger.

Sadly, they were not as eaten by caterpillars this year. Yes, I did see some, but some plants almost had all leaves eaten off last year, and that did not happen this year. And I don’t know if any of my caterpillar guests survived to become pretty butterflies—it was common for me to see caterpillars one day, but not the next, this summer.

The life of a wild caterpillar is a precarious thing.

monarchloop

August–caterpillar eating leaf on common Milkweed in my front garden.

Still, the Milkweed plants grew this summer. The swamp milkweed bloomed nicely. And I did see caterpillars.

I guess my overall project to introduce Milkweed to my gardens made progress this summer, and that’s a good thing. I needed some good news, as I read with some trepidation that the Trump administration is making changes to the Endangered Species Act, signed over four decades ago by another Republican (Richard Nixon).

catunder

Earlier this summer-I hope things will be looking up for these butterflies.

I could well believe the act could use some transparency and rules changes. But no, I don’t trust the Trump administration to do it well.

Well, I’ll do what I can. And I hope more of my pretty flower plants get eaten by Monarch babies next year.

monarch

Glad I have planted cone flowers. Monarchs appear to like them.

Leave a comment

Filed under Flowers

Love in the Time of Peonies


peony with ant

Peony blooming in front garden. With ant.

I feel like I’m visiting my gardens now and then. We are travelling a lot this summer, so my relationship with the changing scenery outside is snapshots rather than the continuous story.

Not that I’m complaining. I loved the time in California, and I look forward to journeys to Okoboji and then England.

milkweed

June 2019–Milkweed getting tall.

Spring has turned to early summer. Biking to campus today, I noticed a great patch of peonies on the back entrance leading to the library.

Peonies are popping all over town. They are barely getting going in my own gardens, but they are starting. Early in June, I’m enjoying irises, clematis, new phlox we planted this spring. It was a hard winter in my yards—four trees either completely died or were severely damaged, including a cottonwood (what kind of cottonwood can’t take a Midwest winter?).

But you can’t feel sad about winter losses in the time of Peonies. A soft scent, big showy flowers, vibrant colors. I love peonies, and they are a sign that summer is underway.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Flowers, Weather

The Summer of Milkweed and Butterflies


swamp

When I shot this image in June, this was a mystery flower–it’s swamp Milkweed.

It began in spring. I have for years planted Milkweed seeds in my gardens, with almost no results. Last year, I purchased some “Butterfly Flower” Milkweed plants at a local nursery, and at least those plants did grow. Also last year, for the first time, a few baby plants that maybe could be Milkweed were spotted in the garden, but didn’t grow much.

This winter was a bit mixed. We had some cold. It was not a particularly harsh winter, but it lingered and the spring that followed felt very truncated before hot weather suddenly appeared.

And somehow that odd combination—a chilly winter and quick spring, followed by Iowa hot—seemed to be what Milkweed had been waiting for. While in past years, results had been limited, suddenly in the front garden last year’s baby Milkweed sprang up like, well, weeds.

milkweedgirl

Final day of RAGBRAI, West Liberty, I stop to get some Milkweed seed balls to toss in ditches.

The Butterfly Flowers didn’t all come back, but the plants that did grew robustly and bloomed with pretty orange flowers. The common Milkweed didn’t bloom yet this year—but several of the plants grew to several feet in height.

And in the side garden, a tall spiky stranger appeared, an impressive, 3-foot plant with pink flowers. I didn’t know what it was until we attended the Monarch Fest at the Indian Creek Nature Center, where there were pictures of Swamp Milkweed.

And not only was Milkweed suddenly present in the gardens, but Monarch butterflies on whose behalf these plants were installed didn’t waste much time in finding my Milkweed patch. Suddenly, this year, there were those distinctive black, yellow and white caterpillars. Indeed, the identity of the Swamp Milkweed was confirmed by the presence of baby Monarchs.

caterpillar

Caterpillar on Swamp Milkweed this week.

Well, it’s August and the press of school work is starting. I have syllabi to prepared, a newspaper staff to help organize and a bike club to encourage. The end of RAGBRAI, in my universe, is sort of the unofficial end of summer.

And this summer, we adopted a caterpillar from the Nature Center, fed it and had the pleasure of watching it fly off.

My gardens had a few losses from the winter that have not been restored—my two Rose of Sharon bushes both died, for example. I like that kind of flower and eventually will replace them, although I didn’t find them this year. No butterfly bushes are growing in my gardens this year despite the welcome presences of many butterflies—that perennial is dicey in my region of Iowa and is really almost an annual.

But this was the first year the dogwood tree in back bloomed, and the first year in which Milkweed firmly took hold in my gardens. All in all, I’ll list it as a successful growing season.

And now summer is psychologically, if not physically, over, the fall bulb catalogs are arriving, and the year is marching onward.

Leave a comment

Filed under Garden, Weather

Finished with Fall Planting


a01

Pretty fall oak leaf seen in my backyard during bulb planting this October.

If all goes well, there will be new Crocus, tulips, Daffodils and Iris in my gardens and yard come spring. I think I actually finished the bulb planting around the end of October or so, and followed that up with some additional seed planting.

My RAGBRAI Team Joe pals, in honor of my missing the final two days of the ride this year with some health issues, had saved me some Milkweed seed balls from the ride. I had also retrieved a seed balls few at the Indian Creek Nature Center during a fall event there.

Besides the clay balls loaded with Milkweed seeds, my wife had also collected some seeds directly from plants growing in the ditch outside our son’s apartment building when we visited him during fall break.

I planted the clay balls in late October when the bulbs when in the ground (Milkweed is sewn on the surface—“planting” clay seed balls meant just placing the balls on the soil surface). On Nov. 5, I separated the seeds from the fluff and proceeded with planting. The balls has already been placed either in gardens or at the edge of woods along Dry Creek behind our house. The seeds went in the same areas—gardens and wood’s edge.

I have high hopes for most of the bulbs. Come spring, crocus will be poking up in the yard, while Tulips and Daffodils will appear in gardens. Iris? I plant them pretty much every year and have very limited luck. Not sure why, but it’s just the way the garden grows. Still, here’s hoping for some new Iris next year.

And the Milkweed? I try to plant some every fall. I do have a few “butterfly flower” plants I put in last year that came back this year, so my gardens aren’t totally free of Monarch butterfly habitat, but I want to do more to aid those majestic insects. Maybe, with some luck, some of these Milkweed seeds will push up next spring. We’ll see!

Leave a comment

Filed under Garden, Weather

Friday Floral Feature: The Maybe Milkweed Week


maybemilkweed

What do you think? Is it Milkweed?

Hope springs eternal in the spring. This week saw Dwarf Lilac in full bloom, a second Clematis with giant flowers take center stage in my front garden, and something else. Or so I hope.

Maybe Milkweed?

We’ll see. My gardening heart has been broken many times by this tough but hard to get started Iowa perennial flower. Of course I want Milkweed in my garden. It’s the only kind of plant that a Monarch Butterfly will lay eggs on, and the decline of the Monarch is at least associated with the decline of Milkweed in the Iowa countryside.

So, I try to do my part. Year after year, I sow the seeds. And year after year, nothing.

Last year, I purchased some “Butterfly Flowers” at a nursery. It’s a variety of Milkweed, and two of the purchased plants are coming up again this spring, which is nice.

yesmilkweed

Yes, Milkweed–plant I bought last year is coming back.

But the common wild Milkweed plant grows larger and is preferred by the butterfly. It is a bit odd, I suppose, for a flower gardener to try to raise plants hoping that caterpillars will devour them, but that’s the way it is.

And the “weed” in Milkweed’s name is simply a mistake. It’s a pretty native perennial flowers, and all of us who grow anything to look at in our gardens ought to plant it, especially now. MMU, I’m looking at you.

Anyway, back to my garden this week. Something is coming up in front—something that popped up suddenly this May, just when Milkweed should appear.

peony

Peony after Wednesday night storm. Many in town are in bloom, but not in my gardens yet.

Sadly, there are lots of plants that look like this when they are young, but at least Milkweed is among them. After years of frustration, is this the spring when Mother Nature took pity on me?

I vote “yes,” although my vote means nothing. We shall see. At least I know that the store-bought variety of Milkweed has appeared this week, and that makes it a good week in the gardens.

clematis

A second Clematis–with dramatically large flowers–bloomed this week.

Leave a comment

Filed under Flowers, Garden

Update on Project Milkweed


b03

Common milkweed seeds, gathered from a ditch in Ames Iowa next to the apartment building where my son lives there. I separated these out Friday and also planted them.

I haven’t coordinated a planting effort on the Mount Mercy campus, so I’m not sure there will be many milkweed planted there this year—although I do have an envelope of seeds saved, and may inquire about at least planting those in a few established garden spots.

The final three workdays of this week were fall break at Mount Mercy, and they flew by. On Friday, we invited four grandchildren over for a sleepover party—they spent all day Friday with us and will go home midday Saturday.

I want to describe part of our Friday—but first, a minor word of caution. This post will end with some fall photos, and my cohort in crime for the garden milkweed planting did point out an arachnid, which I did photograph. So the very end of the post is not spider safe. If you are averse to spiders, go ahead and read the post, just don’t scroll to the end of the photos.

Our busy grandchildren day included trip to Half-Price Books followed by Thomas Park, lunch at McDonald’s and them home to pack up bicycles, which we took down to Cedar Lake for a ride (it was warming by then, I’m happy to say). After that, some of the grandkids walked up to HyVee Drugstore with grandma to get bread sticks to go with pasta for supper, while I stayed home with the others.

Amelia, a 5-year-old granddaughter, wanted to help me plant after she saw me separating out milkweed seeds from the bag Audrey and I had collected near our son’s apartment in Ames, Iowa.

b02

Amelia, ready to plant seeds.

I had two sets of milkweed to plant—an envelope with a generous supply of seeds (I kept a second one for possible MMU use) and a bowl of all the white fluff and leftover pods, which also had many seeds left in it.

b04

“Extra” seeds and pods. I did not try to be very efficient gathering seeds–I knew I was going to scatter all the rest behind my fence anyway, in the hope that Mother Nature’s way of planting milkweed will yield some results.

First stop was the woods behind our fence, where I scattered the “extra” seeds and pods, mostly at the edge of the tree line, hoping that sunny spot will promote milkweed growth.

b05

Seeds in the air, edge of the woods behind my house.

After that, Amelia brought the seed envelop down to me so we could plant in the gardens. But when I opened the envelope, only about 1/3 of the seeds where there.

Amelia looked a little sad. “Some of them blew out,” she said. I interpreted that to mean she spilled some, because the seeds in the envelope didn’t have their white silky wind catchers attached, and it wasn’t especially windy.

No matter—1/3 of the seeds was still quite a few, and in the back of my mind was the thought that I did not have to save my second envelope. So, we planted—basically we used a trowel to scape soil in several small areas, scattered some seeds there, and then covered them with a very thin layer.

Milkweed seeds don’t go deep into the soil, and are best planted in fall. The seeds want to overwinter before germinating, or so I’ve read on the internet. Honestly, I’m not the person to consult on this—although I’ve tried for several years to get milkweed going, I don’t have much success.

Anyway, after we got done I didn’t bother to get the second envelope right away. Instead, Amelia and her brother and I simply enjoyed the later afternoon in the backyard, playing various games. When it was starting to cool and I thought it was going to be time to go in soon, I have them the usual 5-minute warning.

Amelia went off by herself and sat on some stone steps that lead from the upper to lower yard. “Grandpa,” she called. “Come here!”

I ambled over, and asked what she wanted. “This is where the seeds spilled,” she said. I moved some leaves on the steps—and sure enough, hundreds of milkweed seeds were just laying on the steps.

So I swept them into my hand and we did planting, round two. And I didn’t feel the need anymore to break into my second envelop. Maybe a small-scale planting at MMU can still happen this fall.

To finish the story, here are some random fall photos taken while Amelia and I were planting, with the caveat that this is where the spider sensitive need to leave this web page:

b01

Fall mum in bloom in garden (and Amelia and I planted some milkweed next to it).

b07

Vine creeping over fence is turning colors (above). Oaks (below) starting to look like fall (maples and tulip tree don’t have the memo yet, crab apples are taking on fall hues).

b08

b06

“There is a big spider,” Amelia said. I looked, and sure enough, right on the gate handle, this big spider was sitting. The board it is on is the one I just slid to lock the gate. I was a bit startled at first–but it’s kind of a pretty looking hunter. And I always figure spiders outdoors are good news–anything that eats mosquitoes and flies is welcome in my gardens!

Leave a comment

Filed under Flowers, Garden, Grandchildren, Mount Mercy

Hoping Monticello & MMU Learn to Love Milkweed


b01

Swallow-tail butterfly on shore of Cedar Lake.

When they sell a variety of Milkweed at a flower shop, they rename it “Butterfly Flower.” It’s a better name for PR than a plant name that has “weed” in it.

But Milkweed is not really a weed, in that a weed is an unattractive, unwanted plant. Milkweed is a very tall, robust native flower, pretty when it’s blooming, and very much wanted because it’s the only kind of plant the Monarch butterfly will lay eggs on.

I read in The Gazette this morning, in an article by our excellent local environmental writer Orlan Love, that the city of Monticello is sending warning letters to a resident due to the Milkweed plants on his property.

I made me think again of a project I would like to get started at Mount Mercy University where I teach. The U planted a community vegetable patch this summer. Why not an MMU butterfly garden? It would feature Milkweed, but also other plants that benefit pollinators.

MMU already has plenty of Coneflowers, which Monarchs love, but no place for baby Monarchs. Maybe the planters near Basile Hall would be a good spot?

Anyway, I need to find a group at MMU that’s interested in such an idea—possibly the Bike Club or Science Club or an alliance of the Bike and Science clubs? What do you think, MMUers?

Anyway, the Gazette story made me a bit sad. My heart is with you Michael Felton. May Monticello wake up and smell the nectar. Cities need to encourage Milkweed planting, not demand its removal. Just say “Butterfly Flower.” It sounds nicer, and is pretty accurate.

This afternoon, on my way home, I bicycled down to Cedar Lake. I was in the mood to see a Monarch butterfly, and knew from previous rides that the lake is a local hot spot for the orange flyer. There is a fair amount of Milkweed on the lake shore, and all I can say is, hooray for Milkweed.

I didn’t find what I was looking for. A pretty Goldfinch darted ahead of me on the trail, way too fast for me to unlimber my point-and-shoot camera. On the lake, a large white egret was looking quite fetching. And I did take some pictures of a pretty butterfly by the lake–a Swallowtail.

b02

Egret or heron on Cedar Lake.

I didn’t feel too bad about my failure. Despite the muggy heat, it felt good just to waste some time by the pretty waters. So I turned my bike north to pedal home, but just after I had crossed the bridge at the north end of the lake, I noticed flashes of orange in some white flowers west of the trail.

Yup. Monarchs. Not one, but several were flitting about—and not just Monarchs, either, as some pictures I took are clearly of Viceroy butterflies.

b03

A Monarch, above, and Viceroy, below, on same clump of flowers on trail north of Cedar Lake. Viceroys are smaller (despite the appearance, the insect below is only about 2/3 size of one above) and feature a dividing line on hind wing that Monarchs lack. Species didn’t seem to mind hanging together this afternoon.

b04

Well, cool. Monarchs are not as common as they once were, which is why Monticello’s war on Milkweed is misguided. I was glad to see some near Cedar Lake. More of my photos are on this Facebook gallery.

So this fall, I am going to try again to sew some native Milkweed seeds in my gardens. You don’t plant Milkweed in spring like many other flowers, because the seeds have to experience winter cold before they will sprout.

I doubt the city of Cedar Rapids will object if I succeed and get some plants going next year. And maybe I can be part of getting some Milkweed planted at MMU, too?

Leave a comment

Filed under Flowers, Garden