We’re passionate about Monarchs at the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge

Summer may be slipping away, but September is an exciting time at the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge. Usually starting in mid-September and continuing for several weeks, you can see these iconic butterflies in our gardens feasting on nectaring plants as they build energy and strength for their southbound migration to Mexico.

The LLFB is proud to be a recognized garden on the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail. The mission of the trail is to promote the life cycle of butterflies with a special emphasis on the monarch.
The monarch is an ancient creature, and while most butterfly species hibernate, only the monarch makes a two-way migration. Their journey begins in Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains where they winter among fir trees. When the weather begins to warm in March, they begin migrating as far north as Canada. Monarchs who travel west of the Rocky Mountains, migrate to coastal California.
During the journey north, adult females lay eggs on milkweed leaves, then die. After these eggs hatch, the larva (caterpillar) eats its eggshell, and then eats milkweed leaves as it goes through several molts, growing 2,700 times larger in about a 2-week period.

Two monarch caterpillars on the author’s milkweed inside a butterfly enclosure.

This metamorphosis from egg to butterfly takes about four weeks. These new butterflies repeat the cycle and continue the migration north, a journey taking several months. The adults who arrive at the final northern destination are the great-grandchildren of those who left Mexico.

The caterpillar hangs in a “J” formation for about 24 hours, spins a web of silk, then when ready forms its chrysalis, where it remains for 8-14 days. The new chrysalis is bright green, but toward the end of its metamorphosis, it becomes transparent, and one can clearly see the black and orange butterfly inside.

The fourth or fifth generation, born in the fall, returns to Mexico by November to overwinter until the following spring. They have migrated in this pattern for thousands of years, although with current climate change, some variations in the migration are being seen.
While we sometimes see some monarchs at the Bridge on the northbound migration, we are most likely to see them in larger numbers during fall.

It is said that up to 100 million monarchs migrate each fall. But did you know that this migration is seriously threatened by human activities – pesticide use and habitat loss – in both their summer and winter sites?
But you can help the monarchs, and here’s how:
• Plant milkweed! Milkweed is the only food source for monarch caterpillars. It provides all the necessary nutrients needed for their survival. There are more than 100 species of milkweed native to the US and Canada, with butterfly weed, common milkweed, whorled milkweed, and swamp milkweed being the most recommended for our area. When you visit the gardens at the Bridge, you will find our milkweeds primarily in our pollinator gardens. If you plant it, they will come!
• Plant nectar-rich plants. Milkweed flowers provide good sources of nectar and provide colorful blooms ranging from pink, orange, and white for your garden. Adult monarchs need nectar from a variety of flowers, such as coneflowers, salvias, and zinnias, all excellent pollinator plants for your garden at home. The Bridge gardens are abundant with these flowers, providing needed food for all butterflies.
• Avoid pesticides and herbicides in your pollinator/butterfly gardens. Monarch and other butterfly caterpillars, as well as bees, are susceptible to drift from pesticides applied to other plants and lawns.
If you’d like to learn more about monarch butterflies, threats to the species, ongoing conservation efforts, or even how to raise monarch butterflies inside a butterfly enclosure at home, check out http://www.journeynorth.org, http://www.rosalynncarterbutterflytrail.org, http://www.joyfulbutterfly.com. Also, watch http://www.monarchwatch.org/migration and http://www.exploreasheville.com, for information on where to see monarchs in our area during this fall’s migration.

Save the Dates!
August 22, Harvesting & Preserving Herbs, 10 am, free and open to the public
Learn how to harvest your herbs and preserve them for use in your kitchen.

September 26, Winterize Your Garden, 10 am, free and open to the public
Learn tips for winterizing your garden and protecting your plants from the cold.

September 28 & 30, LLFB Plant Sale, 9 am – 1 pm
Find plants for sale grown in our gardens or volunteers’ gardens. Fall is the perfect time to transplant trees, shrubs, and perennials.

Photo credits: Linda Reandeau & Lynn Lang, LLFB Volunteers
Linda Reandeau is a retired Master Gardener and LLFB Volunteer and Board Member

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