Monarchs of the Garden

Last autumn, I tried to sow a tiny patch of ground outside our condo with a few milkweed seeds. I was rewarded this spring by finding a bunch of milkweed plants growing in that patch of ground. They started sprouting before we left on our trip to Venice, and by the time we got back the plants were over two feet high.

I count ten plants, all within three feet of each other. That’s more than I planted. Hmmm…

This patch of ground is quite small – maybe 10-12 feet square. Living in a condo development, I was made painfully aware that any plantings I do exist at the whim of the condo association and their maintenance team. Last year, they “thinned” my lilies, basically tearing out all the red ones (my favorite color) and decimating the yellow ones. Its the kind of thing that makes me reluctant to do any planting outside at all.


Nothing else really eats milkweed, so the fact that I found leaves that had been chewed on tipped me off that eggs had been laid and had hatched. It took some dedicated searching, but eventually I found a few friends that I was hoping to attract with these plants:


These milkweeds and their monarch caterpillars were a welcome surprise, and I check on them every day. The first time I saw them there were two, and they were tiny: maybe an inch (about 25mm) long and not much thicker than string. Within a day or two, they were twice and long and 2-3 times as thick; clearly they are feeding well. Later, I saw a third caterpillar, this one as small as when I initially found the first two. I haven’t seen the small one since; it’s clear the critters move from one plant to another from day to day, so it may just be hiding–for something so gaudily colored, they certainly are skilled at not being seen. By now, it’s probably as large as the other two–if all three have survived, that is–and while my feeble efforts at animal husbandry only add up to three, I still have hope they will make it through to pupate and become butterflies. Monarchs are being hit pretty hard by loss of habitat and by pesticides and other man-made toxins, so even one of them making it through to full adulthood would be a win in my book.

If everyone with some capability of growing things in a yard did something similar–even just by growing a basket of flowers to give insects and birds another source of uncontaminated food, we’d be in better shape. As it is now, insects are suffering badly: the honeybee population is crashing hard, thanks to Roundup herbicide and its most toxic ingredient, Glyphosate. Despite constant assurances that it’s safe for humans, we’re still facing a public health crisis. Bees pollinate something like 90% of the plants on earth. If, for example, food crops stop being pollinated, food prices would jump to levels only dreamed of in dystopian science fiction stories. No doubt, the makers of Roundup have a solution, which they will gladly sell to us for an exorbitant price.

The modern age we live in has given us many marvels to make life easier and more enjoyable, but there are dangers too, and we need to be aware that big corporations don’t care about little things, because by virtue of being multi-national conglomerates, they are effectively above the law. It becomes increasingly obvious that profit before people is the modus operandi of the majority of these mega-corps, and if we want to avoid living in the world the cyberpunks so successfully predicted, we need to act, and be constantly on guard. I don’t know how much of a difference I’m making with the three monarch caterpillars outside my home, but I intend to keep trying. The world has grown impossibly large, but not so large that simple gestures aren’t still worth doing.

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