Wednesday, August 15, 2012

the Asclepias and the chrysalis

Monarch chrysalis
East Hampton
August 2012

 A few weeks ago I added some Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed) to the garden.  A great sun-loving perennial, deer resistant and loved by butterflies, they grow to a couple feet and produce clusters of these bright orange flowers.  To the left of the flower you can see the interesting seed pods that follow the flower.  

Then one evening I was out back watering and to my surprise I found a number of caterpillars going to town on the foliage and seed pods of the butterfly weed.  Right away I knew they were Monarch Butterfly caterpillars.  As a child one of the all-time best teachers in early grade school was a woman named Sister Pat. I remember one year she raised monarch butterflies in her classroom, starting with the caterpillars eating some kind of milkweed (also Asclepias).  To be a little kid and see how this caterpillar metamorphosized into this beautiful monarch butterfly we would then draw and write about obviously stuck with me for years.  I am sure I had a boyish response of glee upon seeing these three characters chomping away at my perennials.
Of course it really is the chrysalis that the caterpillar envelopes itself in that is the stunning thing.  A vibrant green the chrysalis can often go unseen in the landscape, but then just for fun there is that delicate band of gold that let's you know something amazing is about to unfold.  In my case I thought it was hysterical that of all places the caterpillar decided the deer-repellent mesh over my tomato plants was prime real estate.
The second caterpillar was also already in chrysalis form, in this case on one of the bamboo tomato stakes.

I guess the third caterpillar had a bit more of an appetite than his two buddies.  Needless to say I will be thrilled to keep an eye on the metamorphosis these three go through and hopefully it means there will be some killer monarch butterfly shots coming by late summer.  If I remember correctly, you know, from first grade, the butterflies should emerge from their cocoons in a couple weeks time.

Asclepias tuberosa, a great addition to your garden that will grow more than just flowers.

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