Friday, May 30, 2014

"The butterfly's attractiveness derives not only from colors and symmetry:  deeper motives contribute to it.  We would not think them so beautiful if they did not fly, or if they flew straight and briskly like bees, or if they stung, or above all if they did not enact the perturbing mystery of metamorphosis: the latter assumes in our eyes the value of a badly decoded message, a symbol, a sign."
-Primo Levi

Periodically, I'll be showcasing some of the more common butterflies typically found in Southern California gardens. In no apparent order, we'll start off with one of the most written about butterflies species in the Americas, if not the world:

 Shown here is a male Monarch.  Males sport black dots on either side of their lower wings close to the abdomen, and have narrow black wing veins. Females lack the dots, while their wing veins are thicker than the males.

Monarch Butterfly Danaus Plexippus

Monarch Caterpillar

Monarch Chrysalis

The Monarch Butterfly of North America is an iconic butterfly specie that in the last decade or so has seen an abrupt decline in population, especially in the Midwest and Eastern strains.

Several factors are involved in what are considered severe population crashes. One is the eradication of much of the native milkweed plants that Monarch caterpillars exclusively dine on in Midwest farms and ranches. That is why it is so important to plant milkweed in private gardens, community parks, and anywhere anyone is willing to tend some.
The bulldozing of wild, open spaces for building is another.
Thirdly, the overwintering sites in Central Mexico for the Midwest and Eastern strains have been systematically destroyed through logging, poaching, and land clearing for agriculture. The western strain found in California and the Northwest, overwinters along the Southern California coast, are faring better, but have also been impacted due to host plant and habitat loss.

 Monarch Butterfly fall overwintering routes. Reverse directions in spring and summer.

Monarchs travel many miles from southern overwintering sites back home up north, and back down again. Along the way, they need milkweed plants to lay their eggs upon to produce more progeny; no milkweed, no progeny, no progeny, extinct creature. Once they get down to their overwintering grounds and the areas are seriously decimated or even extinct, there is no safe place for them to ride out the winter's cold, and subsequently die or are severely reduced in numbers.

Here is more on the Monarch Butterfly

Tropical, or Mexican Milkweed Asclepias curassavica

There are quite a few native North American milkweed species and several exotic non native ones that monarchs host on. One of the most common for gardeners is Tropical, or Mexican Milkweed. Prolific and easy to grow, this handsome plant makes a fine addition to any garden. It can be found in almost any local nursery center nowadays.

Many of the North American natives make good garden plants also. The species endemic the the western half of the United States tend to be more xeric (growing in dry places), so care must be taken to not over water them in the average garden. Many of these are well suited to growing in large pots where watering regimes can be better monitored. To list all of the different milkweed plant species here would be daunting, so an online search for milkweed would be better served.

Here is a list of the milkweed species currently growing in the container garden:

Asclepias curassavica, a Mexican and Central American native. Average watering.

Asclepias eriocarpa, native to California. Xeric.

Asclepias fascicularis, a California native. Xeric; can take average watering also.

Asclepias incarnata "Cinderella", also known as Swamp Milkweed, is an Eastern U.S. native. Found in swampy areas, does well in moist garden environments.

Asclepias physocarpa (Gomphocarpus physocarpus), a South African native. Average watering.

Asclepias speciosa, native to parts of California. Xeric, but will tolerate garden watering routines.

Asclepias speciosa "Davis"  is a lower elevation cultivar. I'm curious to see which one will do better at close to sea level.

All of these do well in containers, but A. eriocarpa may prove to be a bit of a challenge due to its long taproot. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, May 26, 2014

“Some people are settling down, some people are settling and some people refuse to settle for anything less than butterflies.”
- Candace Bushnell

(Just a gentle, persuasive reminder... please?)


  • Eggs: 3 - 8 days incubation.
  • Caterpillars: 9 - 16 days as cats. (Except for the California Dog Face butterfly. HA! That's silly.)
  • Caterpillars go through 5 instar stages.
  • Chrysalises: 8 - 15 days as chrysalises.
  • Adults: Live for about 2 - 6 weeks during active season. Overwintering adults live longer.

Different butterfly species have different life cycle times.

All three Monarch cats are gone; hopefully crawled off to chrysalissize (made up word. verb: to make, create, or turn into a chrysalis.)

I finally spotted my first Monarch butterflies of the season today. Must be a swarm of them migrating back north passing through my neighborhood. These are a few of them I captured with my camera phone. It's amazing what good photos these little contraptions produce.

Other species observed:

California Dog Face Butterfly, Zerene eurydice

I also spotted these two unidentified butterflies. I'll let you know what they are when I get a positive I.D. on them.

These two I find particularly attractive and beautiful. Instinct tells me they are migrating back to Redmond, Washington.

One particularly gaudy looking specimen.

A dear blog follower from Laguna Beach, California snapped this photo of an elusive butterfly flitting about the Irvine Bowl/ Laguna Theater village area. A delicate, petite, and lovely creature! If anyone can identify it, please share that info with the rest of us. Its gossamer wings are quite fetching:

Grace and elegance.

An interesting observation: all of them seem to be females. The absence of males is baffling to me. My guess is they could be congregating in certain sections of Laguna Beach, North Hollywood, and areas in and around San Francisco.

Since we are on the subject of Monarch butterflies, here is a milkweed that produces drop dead flowers, and can take average to moist garden soil:

Butterfly Encounters was an excellent source for various milkweed seed species. Unfortunately, the owner is shutting down his site in order to focus more attention to his family, which is a very good thing.

If interested in purchasing Asclepias incarnata "Cinderella" milkweed plants, check out these online sources: Cinderella milkweed. Makes for good cut flowers. There are several other varieties of Asclepias incarnata, or Swamp Milkweed available also. "Ice Ballet" is a very popular white variety. All varieties of Swamp Milkweed are good candidates for Monarch butterfly host plants with their abundant leaf output supporting caterpillars, and its profusion of attractive to both people and butterfly blooms.

Friday, May 16, 2014

"There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly."
-R. Buckminster Fuller


I found my first Monarch butterfly caterpillars on the milkweed growing in the container garden! Counted three Monday morning as I was watering the plants. Haven't seen many butterflies, but they are apparently making the rounds, as the three cats can attest to. Man, those little buggers grow fast!

Other News: 
  • Registered the garden with the Monarch Watch Waystation Program. Those of you who are familiar with the Alta Laguna Park Butterfly Garden may remember it was registered with them and received a green and white waystation sign. I should be receiving my sign soon.


Update: One cat got lost, one slinked away to turn into a chrysalis methinks, and the third is about half grown and growing bigger every day.

Friday, May 9, 2014

"I saw a poet chase a butterfly in a meadow.  He put his net on a bench where a boy sat reading a book.  It's a misfortune that it is usually the other way round."
-Karl Kraus

Starting to see several butterfly species passing through the container garden here. Saw several Gulf Fritillaries (many mistaken this species as a Monarch butterfly), with one visiting my Garlic Passion Fruit vine. Haven't noticed any cats on it, so it was either a male or non-fertile female. This particular passion fruit vine will be replaced with a more vigorous grower, Possum Purple. I hope to also get some delicious passion fruits from it! Alas, the Garlic Passion Fruit is not putting out enough leaves to feed a decent amount of GF cats, therefor the switch. I love its flowers, so I'll be putting it in its own pot and relegate it to the front porch where it will be allowed to cascade over the side.

Back in the  January 31st blog entry, there was a post written about Butterfly Farms of Vista, California being the new home of The Monarch Program. Well, things have changed a little bit since then. The center is located fifteen minutes away from where I live.

The Monarch Program has decided to pull out of Butterfly Farms and relocate somewhere else. There will still be a HUGE vivarium built, school field trips held, butterfly specific plants sold, and tours offered to the general public at Butterfly Farms.

I went back there fairly recently to check it out and get an update on their digs and to buy some milkweed for the Butterfly Container Garden. They want $10 for 1 gallon milkweed plants which is waaay too steep a price in my opinion, but it is a nonprofit, so the added cost is going to a good cause and not necessarily lining someone's pocket. They are also offering plants in 4 inch containers, but unfortunately I didn't get a price quote.

© Butterfly Farms
 Plant propagation greenhouse

It's going to be a very vibrant and aggressive center of butterfly related activity. Unfortunately, with The Monarch Program pulling out, the timeline for opening up the vivarium, hosting school field trips, and access to the general public has been set back by several months.

© Butterfly Farms
This vivarium will be the largest free flight butterfly house in Southern California once completed.

If they accomplish all they intend on doing, this endeavor will be a hub of west coast butterfly activity and influence. They are selling plants now, but the selection, size, and quantities are still a bit low. That should all change in May when plant stock should be up to snuff.

They also have a Butterfly Farms Facebook presence.