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There is a place for every milkweed, and a milkweed for every place.

Jim Price

Wauwatosa, WI

Posted on the Monarch Watch list serve July 19, 2018

I fervently hope that people will not get hung up on studies of ovipositing preference and larval survival on different milkweed species – and not because I don’t believe the studies, but because I think many laypeople tend to draw misguided conclusions from them. These studies advance our knowledge base but do not necessarily need to guide us in making choices.

Our migratory monarchs, east and west, evolved with some 73 species of milkweed in their breeding ranges. Monarchs will lay eggs on most if not all of them, and at least some of their larvae will develop on most if not all of them. I have raised more than 20 species and have yet to find one that doesn’t fit the bill. Some larvae die on every species. Evolution being what it is, more-toxic milkweeds must have their place, and milkweed mortality may simply be the price that monarchs have paid to Charles Darwin for having adopted a toxic genus of plants as their host.

It is good-hearted and well-intentioned, perhaps, to say,  “But I don’t want to plant Sullivant’s milkweed because two-thirds of all the caterpillars that hatch will die before they reach adulthood.” But that overlooks the many advantages that this species provides, and it is a purely human emotional reaction to an incredibly complex set of relationships that occur in the wild.

If we were to adopt the “some milkweeds are better than others” approach (which I wholly reject), weighing preference, larval survival and development, and adult fitness, choosing only those species that score “good” or better, we in the East would be planting only common (A. syriaca) and swamp (A. incarnata). We’d have to abandon everyone’s favorite, butterfly weed (A. tuberosa), because it is the least preferred species, even though it has the highest survival (75%, per Pocius). We might leave out poke milkweed (A. exaltata) because it is only moderately preferred, even though it is tops in larval development and fills a niche (shade) that most other milkweeds cannot. We’d ignore whorled milkweed (A. verticillata) because it is so little preferred, even though it provides late-season blooms and tender growth when most other milkweeds have begun to senesce (in the drought of 2012, whorled milkweed was highly preferred by season’s end when common milkweed had turned bone-dry)

As for Sullivant’s, or prairie, milkweed (A. sullivantii), it is highly preferred but scores low on survival (36%, per Pocius). Beyond that, it is incredibly long-lived once well-established in an appropriate habitat; blooms much longer than any other milkweed; continues to produce new, tender growth much longer than most other milkweeds; produces copious nectar that is highly preferred (in my observation) by both monarchs and a host of other pollinator insects; and is remarkably drought-tolerant (again, in 2012, it was still blooming and producing new foliage until season’s end when all other milkweeds except whorled had scenesed. About 90% of all eggs laid in my Waystation that year were on sullivantii, despite there being at least 13 other species to choose from.).

The mathematics of monarchs and milkweeds is an equation of shocking mortality. Tori Pocius’ survival studies were necessarily done on milkweeds growing in the absence of any predators, parasites and pathogens. Put those back into the equation, in the wild, and we find that regardless of milkweed species, 88% to 98% of all monarch larvae will die one way or another before they reach the fourth instar. On average, over time, more than 99% of larvae, pupae and adults will die somehow before they can reproduce, and that would be true even if the population were in equilibrium.

So, if only one in four larvae laid on A. tuberosa will succumb on their diet alone, while two of three laid on A. sullivantii will perish, but monarchs will lay, say, 100 eggs on sullivantii for every one laid on tuberosa, which species will produce more monarchs? Add the fact that sullivantii will spread vegetatively into a large clone of many stems over time, while tuberosa will have to rely on self-sowing alone. Which is better? Well, neither. Both are good, just for different reasons.

Some might still argue that syriaca and incarnata are the better choices because they are preferred, have good survival and good development, hence all the advantages we want over both sullivantii and tuberosa (in this example). And perhaps in the short term, we should use a lot of syriaca and incarnata to achieve the most rapid recovery of the monarch population to sustainable levels. But long-term, and starting now, we need all of our milkweeds, because…

Incarnata cannot fit all the niches of land-use that we need to recover. It is the only species we can use to repopulate very wet places, but it will not persist in any place that is not predominately wet throughout most of the season. Since most of the land-use areas we are talking about restoring are not predominately wet, it cannot be our sole or main reliance.

Syriaca is our least conservative species and is very good food for monarchs. It seems to grow almost everywhere, but in fact it has its own niche, if you will. It is a pioneer species that is highly reliant on disturbance for natural colonization. It is not terribly persistent nor likely to reintroduce itself in habitat that remains undisturbed for long. If our goal is to restore large areas to tall-grass prairie to the benefit of the monarch, common milkweed will only get us started. If you visit any long-established prairie restoration, you will find little or no common milkweed beyond the borders and trail edges where disturbance continues to occur. You will find very little if any in the interior of the mature prairie. And our naturalists will want to do this – restore prairie “the right way,” meaning undisturbed once established, “pure prairie in perpetuity.” Common milkweed can be planted there, or it will arrive on its own, when the restoration is first underway. But it will evaporate over time.

What species will establish and then persist in a mature tall-grass prairie restoration intended to be perpetually maintained only by occasional mowing or fire? Sullivantii and tuberosa.

The fact that common milkweed accounts for 90% of all the milkweed feedstock available to monarchs is a matter entirely of our own doing. Common milkweed cannot once have been so vey common. It is an opportunistic species that would have occupied the margins and boundaries where disturbance occurred (wind-thrown trees, flash-flood scars, heavily browsed thickets, etc.) and would have invaded prairie only with the help of soil exposed by buffalo wallows, badger dens, gopher mounds and the like. For all we know, common milkweed may have evolved with the relatively much greater disturbances caused by the Pleistocene megafauna ripping and tearing at the turf. It may have waxed and waned and waxed again with the introduction of Native American agriculture. But its current super-prevalence is entirely a product of our vast disturbance of the natural environment and destruction of habitat for all other milkweed species. We have forced the monarch to subsist, for all practical purposes, on a single plant. We have made it single-host specific, whereas it is naturally genus-specific to dozens of species. Monoculture is seldom a good thing. Our long-term goal should not be to perpetuate monoculture in different places but to promote diversity in every place.

Final points:

  • All milkweeds are good, but for different reasons. No one milkweed is inherently better than any other except insofar as it is better adapted to a particular place.
  • We should value, protect and preserve, and restore all milkweeds for their own sake regardless of our biases toward other valued species, including the monarch. Milkweeds are highly beneficial in many ways and beautiful to behold. They are as much a part of our native legacy and responsibility as de facto stewards of all living things as are any other living things. This is our chance not only to recover the monarch butterfly but also to right the wrong we have done the Asclepias tribe. (In Wisconsin, of our 13 native milkweeds, one (sullivantii) is threatened and four are endangered, one of those (A. meadii) having already been extirpated once and only recently reintroduced on a small scale.)
  • All milkweeds are excellent and highly preferred nectar plants serving hosts of beneficial insects, but they have different bloom periods. Some are early and short, some are late and long. Some have flower sizes and forms that serve different insects (whorled milkweed serves many insects that cannot access larger flowers of other milkweeds, or that appear only later when others are done blooming). We shut out many other species if we shut out any one species.
  • We should plant as much milkweed as possible of as many varieties as possible where each species will thrive, as it is appropriate to the ecology of the site – not because of our human biases against any milkweed or in favor of any other species, even monarchs. Plant all milkweeds where our knowledge tells us they should grow, maintain those sites using best practices, and let nature re-take its course.
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Monarchs Thrive in Villa Park’s Entertainment District

While Villa Park residents enjoy movies, concerts and Saturday morning children’s programs this summer, monarch butterflies are finding a welcoming place to lay their eggs and dine on milkweed.

A long time gathering spot for summer activities and bike riders, Cortesi Veterans Memorial Park became a monarch waystation in September 2017 when five butterfly gardens were planted. Villa Park is one of 14 municipal entities in DuPage County that have pledged to be monarch friendly by providing habitat, reducing pesticide usage, and educating residents about the plight of the monarch.

The location for the Five Butterfly Waystations along the Great Western Trail as the project is known, was selected for its intersection of people and bike riders and a desire to upgrade a faded mural which provides a backdrop for the gardens.

The butterfly habitat project is a collaboration of the Villa Park Economic Commission, Environmental Commission, Kenilworth Watch Group, Community Pride Commission, Villa Park Garden Club, The Conservation Foundation and DuPage Monarch Project. Over 25 volunteers turned out to plant the nectar and larval species butterflies rely upon. Jim Kleinwachter and Jan Roehl of The Conservation Foundation supplied the designs and facilitated ordering 700 plants from Midwest Groundcovers.

Volunteers at the planting were astonished when Kim White, volunteer educator with DuPage Monarch Project, explained how an injured butterfly wing is repaired, showing the box of spare wings she keeps for the procedure. Butterfly education will be ongoing when interpretative signage is added to the gardens in upcoming months. Plans call for repainting the mural behind the gardens with images showing the life cycle of monarch butterflies. A design contest is being considered for the fall with painting completed in spring of 2019.

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Photo by Greg Gola, Director of Parks and Recreation, Villa Park

Nine months after the garden was planted, several monarch caterpillars were observed happily munching milkweed. “The monarch population has suffered drastic declines in the past several years,” said Lonnie Morris, Coordinator for the DuPage Monarch Project. “It is encouraging to see how quickly they made use of the new habitat. We’re delighted Villa Park is thinking of monarchs as valuable members of their community and providing what they need.”

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Photo by Greg Gola, Director of Parks and Recreation, Villa Park

Artists Celebrate Pollinators in Mayslake Exhibit

The response to the DuPage Monarch Project and Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s call for art for The Art of Pollinators, opening on May 2nd at Mayslake Peabody Estate was enthusiastic with nearly a 100 submissions. For many people, a likely response to spotting a bug is to swat, squash or spray it but when artists spot an insect, the encounter may be transformed into art. The exhibit offers the public an opportunity to view the community of pollinators through the eyes of an artist.

Benjamin F Calvert III

Great Migrator Rest Stop – Benjamin Calvert III wood relief block print

The exhibit showcases photographs, watercolors, acrylics, an altered book, block prints, and paper cuttings.   “The work really is eclectic,” said Kendra Strubhart, Heritage Interpreter – Mayslake Peabody Estate. “Each artist has interpreted the theme with their own unique perspective.”

Bees and butterflies are popular subjects but moths, wasps and hummingbirds are also represented.

Ann Grill

Milkweed – Ann Grill – watercolor

“As many artists, I’m drawn to butterflies, bees, birds and industrious winged creatures of all sorts…” writes Cherylyn Gnadt of her submission, Telling the Bees: Delicate Deconstruction. “How will I tell my daughter and my daughter’s daughter that we knew years ago of the plight of the honeybee and it’s dwindling numbers…How can we help resolve the dwindling dilemma with newfound solutions? I don’t have the answers, only questions. How will we tell the bees?”

.There will be a host of pollinators at the exhibit shown in fascinating detail and ways you haven’t yet imagined. It’s an opportunity to be inspired and learn more about the critical role pollinators play and the challenges they’re facing.

Some exhibit pieces are available for purchase with prices ranging from $25 – $2,000.

The Art of Pollinators

May 2nd – June 1st.

Monday – Friday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Saturdays 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Mayslake Peabody Estate

1717 W 31st Street

Oak Brook, IL 60523

A free reception will be held Monday, May 7 at 6 p.m.

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I Want To Start a Pollinator Garden: Nature Is Everywhere – Presented by The Nature Conservancy

A pollinator garden provides habitat for and attracts pollen-spreading species. Pollinators make native habitats and food growth possible; therefore pollinator gardens have an essential function to our planet.

Resources for Finding and Planting Pollinator Plants

How to Plant A Pollinator Garden (http://www.fws.gov/pollinators/PollinatorPages/YourHelp.html#garden) guide provides very practical methods on building and maintaining a pollinator garden.

Pollinator Partnership (http://www.pollinator.org/) has several resources on pollinators in general, but most notable is their guide for selecting pollinator plants based on your ecoregion (see here http://www.pollinator.org/guides.htm).

Attracting Pollinators to Your Garden Using Native Plants (http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/documents/AttractingPollinatorsV5.pdf) has great descriptions that provide context on the overall importance of pollinator gardens and how they function.

Insects in the Garden (http://blogs.cornell.edu/horticulture/insects/) emphasizes how important pollinators, and insects in general, are to a garden.

Beneficial Insects, Spiders, and Mites in Your Garden: Who they are and how to get them to stay (Home Garden Series) (https://pubs.wsu.edu/ItemDetail.aspx?ProductID=15656&ReturnTo=6) is a more detailed description of the importance of insects in a garden.

The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge (http://millionpollinatorgardens.org/) has resources that link pollinators to the food we eat. It also discusses the function of a pollinator garden and it even has a pollinator garden registry for those interested in taking the challenge.

Monarch Watch (http://www.monarchwatch.org/) is a teacher-network for tracking Monarch Butterfly migration that also sells milkweed.

Organization for Bat Conservation (https://batconservation.org/) has a bat garden

resource guide as well as materials on building a bat house.

Creating a Bird-Friendly Habitat (http://www.nwf.org/How-to-Help/Garden-for- Wildlife/Gardening-Tips/How-to-Attract-Birds-to-Your-Garden.aspx) provides a short and simple guide on attracting bird pollinators.

 

Mosquito Control and Pollinators: What you should know and what you can do

Are you concerned about mosquito control chemicals negatively impacting pollinators? You are not alone!  And, if you’re confused about how to talk about the impact of mosquito control on pollinators in your community, you are also not alone!

The DuPage Monarch Project has prepared this handout to help you.  Read on to learn the basics about mosquito control chemicals and what you can do to work within your community to lessen the impact of these chemicals on pollinators.

Chemical Control: The Basics

  • Larvicides target mosquitoes in the aquatic larval stage and do not harm pollinators.
  • Adulticides kill adult mosquitoes and are typically sprayed into the air or directly onto plant leaves. Because some species of pollinators like monarchs, have chemical receptors on their legs and feet, adulticides applied directly to the plant leaf can kill a pollinator.
  • The use of adulticides – but not the use of larvicides – has been shown to have a negative impact on pollinators.

Balancing Priorities

Mosquitoes and the diseases that they bring with them, such as West Nile virus, are not going away. Communities are correct to place a high priority on protecting humans from illnesses caused by mosquitoes.  Consequently, chemical control of mosquitoes can be an unwelcome, but sometimes necessary, fact of urban life. But we can take steps to lessen the negative impact of chemical mosquito control on pollinators in our own communities.

Prevention First

Preventing the hatching of mosquito larvae is the easiest, cheapest and most effective way to reduce chemical use for controlling adult mosquitoes. You can do this by routinely checking your property for sources of standing water, where mosquitoes lay their eggs.  Keep buckets, gutters, birdbaths, trash cans, pools, pool covers, and other sources of standing water clean and dry. You can help pollinators in your community by talking with your neighbors and your community leaders about doing this too.

Knowing What’s Happening

Home gardeners and bee-keepers often ask about mosquito management in their area:  When does it happen and what products are used?  Typically, there is no single organization responsible for mosquito management in any state or county.  Finding this information will require some outreach on the part of an interested homeowner. As a concerned citizen, your goal should be to gather information on adult mosquito management, as larval management has no known impact on pollinators.

  • Contact your local government (city, township or county) to ask if spraying for adult mosquitoes is performed in your area. Ask if the spraying is performed by government employees or by an outside contractor.  Generally municipalities and their contractors spray (fog) from the street using trucks or handheld sprayers, or will apply residual barrier treatments directly onto plants using handheld sprayers.
  • If your property is adjacent to a park or forest preserve, contact the appropriate Park District or Forest Preserve District to gather information on their mosquito program, if one exists. Many Park or Forest Preserve Districts do not have in-house mosquito management programs.
  • If adult spraying is performed by a contractor, ask for a point-person you can contact within that company to gather the necessary information.
  • Because all current mosquito adulticide products have some effect on pollinators, the most important question is  when, and how, they spray in your area.
  • Keep in mind, adult mosquito treatments are fairly localized.  Aerial spraying (fogging) generally only affects the immediate treatment area.  Therefore, treatments even just a street over may not have an effect on your property.  Barrier treatments are even more localized, as they should only affect the vegetation that was directly sprayed.

Remember Your Neighbors

Keep in mind that your neighbors, apartment complexes, private businesses, condo associations and other local residents can hire private mosquito control companies themselves without needing to notify the municipality or anyone else nearby.

What Can You Do?

While mosquito adulticides are known to have potential negative impacts on butterflies and moths, if these products are applied at the labelled rates, at the correct time of day, and follow all labelled instructions, the impact on pollinators can be minimized.

Maintaining a friendly, respectful ongoing relationship with local government, contractors and neighbors is the single most important thing you can do to reduce the impact of mosquito control chemicals on pollinators.

  • Encourage the applicator to research and use the most ecological-responsible products available.  
  • Encourage the applicator to apply products following all labelled guidelines, paying particular attention to label rates and application instructions.  Inform them that there are sensitive pollinators in the area.
  • Encourage the applicator to spray after dusk, when many pollinators are not actively foraging.
  • If they do not already do so, ask if you can receive notification prior to any nearby treatments, so that you can take appropriate measures to cover your garden or other sensitive areas like decorative ponds.  If this is not possible, encourage them to develop a notification system for future treatments.
  • If possible, opt out of treatments around your home.  However, understand that this may not be possible, especially if the mosquitoes targeted carry human diseases (Culex mosquitoes, for example).
  • Make sure you do not have standing, stagnant water around your property.  Dumping these containers will reduce the local mosquito population, and therefore help reduce any need to spray for adult mosquitoes.  Encourage your neighbors to do the same.  
  • Where possible, cover sensitive areas with tarps to reduce the amount of pesticide contacting plants that attract pollinators. This will not provide complete protection, and in the case of honeybee colonies, may lead to overheating.  Tarps should be removed the morning after pesticide application.

DISCOVER WAYS TO HELP PROTECT ENDANGERED BUTTERFLIES,
BEES AND DRAGONFLIES AT MAYSLAKE PROGRAM FEB. 20
DuPage Monarch Project and Forest Preserve District of DuPage County Team Up to Offer Program

Discover how to help protect endangered butterflies, bees and dragonflies at “Beyond Monarchs: Preserving Endangered Butterflies, Bees and Dragonflies” on Feb. 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St. in Oak Brook. The free program is co-hosted by Forest Preserve District of DuPage County and DuPage Monarch Project. Registration is not required.

Forest Preserve District ecologist Andres Ortega will discuss conservation efforts in local forest preserves for Baltimore checkerspot butterflies, Hine’s emerald dragonflies and rusty-patched bumblebees. The program will also provide practical strategies for homeowners and communities tohelp protect butterflies and other pollinators.
The District is closely monitoring a colony of Baltimore checkerspot butterflies and Hine’s emerald dragonflies along the Des Plaines River and leading a captive-rearing- and-release program for Hine’s emerald dragonflies at its Urban Stream Research Center at Blackwell Forest Preserve in Warrenville. The District is also monitoring populations of rusty-patched bumblebees in DuPage forest preserves and applies its findings to land management decisions and policies to increase and improve habitat for these endangered insects.

“Pollinators are being adversely affected, and it is our responsibility to protect and restore those populations. Their decline affects us all,” said Forest Preserve District of DuPage County President Joe Cantore.

“We are focusing on these three species in an effort to protect and improve the habitat that they and many other native insects rely on,” said Forest Preserve District Commissioner Jeff Redick, District 2.

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County has been connecting people to nature for more than 100 years. More than 4 million people visit its 60 forest preserves, 145 miles of trails, five education centers and scores of programs each year.

For information, call 630-933- 7200 or visit dupageforest.org, where you can also link to the District’s e-newsletter, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

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Monarch Messenger Says Everyone Can Help Save Monarchs

Monarch butterflies are a hot topic these days; everyone is talking about them. They pop up in expected places like gatherings of environmentalists, but also casually among gardeners, teachers and school children. When a conversation gets going, it doesn’t take long for someone to mention Pat Miller. The long time monarch advocate frequently speaks around DuPage and recently appeared at the Children’s Monarch Fest sponsored by the Elmhurst Cool Cities Coalition.   An impressive string of credentials follows her name, including Monarch Watch Conservation Specialist, Master Gardener, and Master Naturalist.   She is the woman the Chicago Tribune dubbed “Queen of the Monarchs.”

It wasn’t always this way. A decade ago, monarchs were just pretty butterflies people remembered from their childhood or had once seen in their garden. The monarch movement came to DuPage in 2005 when Jane Foulser, a long time Sierra Club member and activist visited a friend in Lawrence Kansas, one of the epicenters for monarch research and conservation, where she met Chip Taylor, founder of Monarch Watch. She learned of the threats facing the migrating butterflies and their dramatic decline. Taylor had just kicked off the Monarch Waystation program, a habitat replacement solution directed at gardeners. Foulser, an accomplished gardener, quickly saw how easily gardens could be modified into monarch friendly oases if gardeners knew what to do. Her experience as a Sierra Club activist had prepared her for taking this message to the community and she was eager to get started.

patmillerjanefoulser2

When Foulser returned to Elmhurst, she enlisted long time friend Pat Miller to join her in taking the message to the community. They began by modifying and registering their own gardens with Monarch Watch, the first in DuPage to be added to the registry, then the two monarch crusaders took to the speaking circuit with posters and power point in hand.  They believed ten local waystations with milkweed and nectar plants, especially the fall blooming species like asters and goldenrods that supply fuel for migration could be registered in the first year. By 2006, nine more waystations had been added to the registry. The goal had been reached and Miller had found a calling.

Twelve years into the Monarch Waystation program, Miller’s garden beautifully exemplifies what her talks describe as the solution to the declining number of monarchs, which threatens its ability to bounce back from extreme weather events and exposure to insecticides. The front and back yards are a mix of milkweed and the more traditional flowers found in suburban gardens, harmoniously combined into several flowing perennial beds.

Becoming a monarch messenger was a natural for Miller. She grew up as an “outdoor kid” in central Illinois, directly experiencing nature and making discoveries on her own. Her fresh delivery and enthusiasm for talking about monarchs is fueled by a desire to pass along the wonder and joy of her childhood to a generation of kids spending less and less time outdoors.  Butterflies are a safe and engaging ambassador for the insects children are encountering less frequently in parks, preserves and their own yards.

“Maybe the single most important thing we can do for conservation in general,” writes Anurag Agrawal, author of Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, A Poisonous Plant and Their Remarkable Story of Coevolution, “is to give people an appreciation of nature.” When Miller passes around monarch eggs, caterpillars and the iconic orange and black butterfly to her audience while telling the story of a life cycle that includes a 3000 mile migration, she is giving them a connection to the natural world. Suddenly they see their backyards as habitat and how their gardens fit into the bigger picture, as a trail of resting places dotting a long and arduous journey.

Her message is being heard. What began with two waystations in DuPage County grew to 241 by 2017.

Monarchs still need our help. Monarch Joint Venture has put out a call for an “all hands on deck” approach to creating the amount of habitat necessary for a population of butterflies large enough to weather normal annual variations. Miller is confident it can be done, one garden at a time.

“We make choices every day,” said Miller, “what we wear, what to eat for breakfast, whether or not to squish a bug. We have so much power in our everyday choices. Don’t ever forget how much power you have to change things.”

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