a growing place… (monarch adoption)

By Marypat Ehlmann
Member-at-Large and Volunteer Coordinator, Wild Ones – St. Louis Chapter

Boy with magnifying glass looking at caterpillars

Examining the monarch caterpillars

In early/mid-April the St. Louis region received our first wave of monarchs migrating north. This was unexpected and about 4-6 weeks before most milkweed in neighborhood yards was tall enough to support feeding a brood of very hungry caterpillars.

As usual the female monarch butterflies laid eggs on as many various native milkweed varieties as they could find (some small plants in ground and some fuller plants in garden centers).

On April 14, at A Growing Place Montessori School, my classroom gained two milkweed plants both with eggs aboard. Then as a plea was heard to help with the monarch baby boom, our classroom adopted 15 of the tiny striped larvae, now totaling 19 caterpillars, to feed, clean up after, and eagerly observe.

Just as described in How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids by Carol Pasternak, for the next two weeks larva ate milkweed leaves, pooped (called frass), rested, outgrew one skin for a larger size, and then ate some more. Thanks to several friends and neighbors, milkweed leaves were harvested, served fresh, and quickly eaten by the brood. Did I mention in this hectic time, three more caterpillars hatched?

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Monarch butterflies, the Burk’s, and Wild Ones in local Times article

By Marcia Myers
Bog Editor, Wild Ones – St. Louis Chapter

yellow, black and white caterpillar

Monarch caterpillar
Photo by Besa Schweitzer

Monarch butterfles don’t care about state lines or country borders. For such seemingly fragile and lovely creatures, they travel between the continental United States and Mexico, with some as far north as Canada, on an amazing and difficult journey. Even under the best of circumstances, they brave challenging environmental conditions.

Unfortunately due to multiple factors including loss of habitat caused by human beings, monarch butterfly populations have decreased by 90 percent. Some wonderful organizations and dedicated individuals are working to increase awareness that if we don’t act quickly, we may lose a national and international treasure.

Susan Burk is one of those individuals who has taken on the task of raising monarch butterfly caterpillars. Her efforts were recognized and the local Webster-Kirkwood Times, Inc. published an article, Local Naturalists Fight To Save The Monarch Butterfly, written by Mary Shapiro. Diana Linsley, who took the photos, is a new member of our Chapter.

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We need help raising abundance of early baby monarchs

Blog by Susan Burk
Member, Wild Ones – St. Louis Chapter

A woman and a man looking for eggs on plant

Susan and Fred Burk looking for monarch eggs
Photo by Marcia Myers

[Editor’s Note: At the end of the gathering on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, Fred and Susan Burk were busy counting monarch eggs. They need our help as these early monarch eggs are now hungry caterpillars!]

It is unusual to have monarchs visit the St. Louis area in the spring. We normally see them as they are migrating south in late summer. This year, possibly because of storms in Texas and Oklahoma, they were “pushed” north and east. Problem with the early arrivals is that our milkweed has not started growing yet and there is not enough milkweed to feed the cat’s.

Female monarchs visited my yard on April 9, and because there were more than a hundred butterfly and marsh milkweed potted plants in my backyard, they had a great time laying eggs, which started hatching on April 16 and 17.

So far we have collected more than one hundred tiny caterpillars!

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Wild Ones sponsors Project Pollinator – plus celebration event on March 15

By Sue Leahy
Board Member-at-Large, Wild Ones – St. Louis Chapter

Project Pollinator is a cooperative effort of St. Louis County Parks, St. Louis County Libraries, The Butterfly House, and Greenscape Gardens to protect pollinators and their habitats. Wild Ones-St. Louis Chapter is proud to be a sponsor of this program in 2017.

The mission of Project Pollinator is to promote an appreciation of all pollinators through education and creation of pollinator gardens. The goal is to educate the public about the importance of pollinators and to provide demonstration gardens at county parks, libraries, and other public venues.

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Book reviews of Heather Holm’s work

Heather Holm is one of the keynote speakers at the Partners for Native Landscaping workshop this coming Friday and Saturday. Her books will be available for sale at the workshop, and she will be available for signing during the Friday social hour as well as during lunch on Saturday.

Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants
By Heather N. Holm
Pollination Press LLC: Minnetonka, MN, 2014
320 pages

Book reviewed by Mary Ann Fink, Curator of the Museum of Transportation’s Pollinator Junction

Pollinators of Native Plants, by Heather Holm, is a comprehensive book that profiles 67 native plants and their visitors who seek pollen, nectar, an insect meal, or a host plant. The “pollinators” category includes bees, wasps, beetles, butterflies, moths, and flies.

Holm had me on page vii when she included an excerpt of Neltje Blachan’s Nature’s Garden: An Aid to Knowledge of Our Wild Flowers and their Insect Visitors, published in 1900. She coaxed me into a trance with a magical visual sequence of close-up photography that masterfully followed Blachan’s poetic description of a bumblebee’s challenge to gain entrance to a sunlit white turtlehead (Chelone glabra) blossom.

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Project Pollinator kickoff event March 15

Project Pollinator logoThe new campaign announcement for Project Pollinator is not a typical tabling event, but the Wild Ones banner will be displayed, and we will have information available to spread the word about our organization’s mission.

Members of our St. Louis Wild Ones chapter, Bob Siemer, Ann Earley, and Betty Struckhoff participate on the Advisory Council for this project.

About this initiative from the website, “The Butterfly House is joining with St. Louis County Parks and Libraries to be a part of the national movement to protect pollinators and their habitats through a newly-launched initiative, Project Pollinator.

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Pollinator Palette features Wild Ones at Greenscape Gardens

By Dawn Weber
Board Member-at-Large, St. Louis Wild Ones

Pollinator Palette sign

Photo courtesy of Greenscape Gardens

UPDATE: March 19, 10:00 a.m. – CANCELLED DUE TO WEATHER March 26 is still scheduled.

Each month a different native plant that serves as a nectar source or host plant will be featured as a gift with purchase at Greenscape Gardens.

This Pollinator Palette program was created to increase awareness and engagement in our communities for pollinator issues and the value of native plants. These events target gardeners of all ages, experience, and skill levels.

For 2016, like-minded community partners are being featured alongside each month’s plant to help raise awareness of that organization’s mission.

Jennifer at Greenscape said, “There is so much great work, education, and passion in St. Louis – We are very proud of our hometown!”

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Milkweed’s toxins protect butterflies

By Marcia Myers

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Not only does this amazing plant act as a nursery, provide nectar, and serve as an important food source, it provides extra protection from predators. Both monarchs (Danaus plexippus) and queen butterflies (Danaus gilippus) store cardenolides, toxins obtained from their milkweed (Asclepias spp.) diet.

Why aren’t the butterflies poisoned? Monarchs and queen butterflies developed enzymes that are “almost entirely immune to cardenolides’ toxic effects”. An article titled, “Butterflies Weaponize Milkweed Toxins” in The Scientist discusses the findings of recent research from Proceedings of The Royal Society B which indicate that the cardenolides-resistant enzymes arose not to specifically encourage the caterpillar to eat more milkweed but to make themselves poisonous to natural enemies.  The milkweed provides the toxins.

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Pros and cons of raising monarchs

By Marcia Myers

Hundreds of monarchs cover a tree trunk as they overwinter in Mexico

Monarchs meeting in Mexico

Monarch butterflies are in serious decline, so raising and releasing them must be good, right? It would seem so, but some experts have concerns.

On October 8, “a group of 10 monarch researchers and conservationists from across the U.S. issued a statement highlighting concerns with the release of commercially raised and other mass-reared monarch butterflies and recommended against the practice.”

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Learn about bee conservation – Nov. 5

Sunflower-Bee-Photo-Marcia-MyersThe decline of bee populations concerns native plant gardeners who know how important bees are for pollination. The 2015 Whitney and Anna Harris Conservation Forum is presenting “Conservation of the Bees”. Topics will address the population decline, behaviors, environmental impacts, and conservation of bee populations across the globe.

Speakers include: Sydney Cameron, Ph.D. from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who specializes in bumble bee behavior, Gerald Hayes, Jr., Ph.D. from Monsanto on honey bees, Nigel Raine, Ph.D. from Guelph University on pesticides, and Alexandra Harmon-Threatt, Ph.D. from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

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