The ‘rearing’ of a Monarch
For the zealous gardener there is nothing more edifying and complimentary to one’s splendors of cultivation than a kaleidoscope of butterflies. The fluters of butterflies have been revered in history, art, music, myths and magic for tens of thousands of years. To the indigenous cultures the butterfly is a symbol of change, joy and color. And the exquisite butterfly is considered a miracle of transformation and resurrection.
In Southern Etobicoke we are blessed with a multitude of butterflies from the regal ‘Monarch’ to the giant ‘Tiger Eye’ to the tiny ‘Wild Indigo Duskywing’. Each butterfly has it’s own unique four cycle life journey from larvae , caterpillar, chrysalis to a six legged and winged marvel of nature.
My own particular affection to butterflies began as a young lad growing up on 5 acres on the Sturgeon River in Tay Township. At the time collecting butterflies was a popular summer activity but not me. No I had started and now what is a growing and in many parts of the world a necessity, the ‘rearing’ of butterflies.
It all started when one day Mr.Lawson who had an adjacent farm to our property informed me that his livestock of dairy cattle were allergic to the poisonous Milkweed. My parents allowed Mr.Lawson to harvest and bale the hay on our property for his livestock so getting rid of any milkweed in our pasture would be a help to him.
The Milkweed is the staple food, home and breeding bastion for the Monarch. So out with my little red wagon and shovel I started to dig up healthy Milkweed plants and transplant them out of danger from the giant baling machine. With in a week or so the Milkweed was a living populous of the familiar yellow and black striped monarch caterpillars Soon my caterpillar farm was eating the milkweed almost as fast as I could find new mature specimens to transplant.
Then one day the ravaging of milky succulent leaves stopped. Underneath the existing leaves the most wondrous phase of a monarchs life was happening, the caterpillars were transforming into chrysalises. ‘Metamorphosis’ is without a doubt, one of natures most mystifying and magical acts. In the next 7-10 days the second phase of metamorphosis occurred when the stately Monarchs ( named after The Prince Orange of Holland) started emerging.
As soon as the butterflies had dried their gleaming orange wings, off they flew to gather nectar from flowers, trees and milkweed and blooms and pods. My summer of ‘rearing’ Monarch butterflies was complete. Moreover the joy for an eight year old is to this day, something you can’t put into words . Like great music the only ‘way’ is to experience for yourself.
Today the Monarch butterfly is endangered so any campaigns to help rearing Monarch or other butterflies for that matter, is something every gardeners needs to consider. If you would like to rear Monarchs you’ll need a safe and sunny place in your garden to transplant Milkweed or plant the seeds from their pods. Once planted the Monarchs will do the rest.
I say safe because the Milkweed as mentioned earlier is poisonous to animals and pets. Interestingly the toxins in the sticky white milky sap is eaten only by the Monarch caterpillar and it’s toxicity is carried through its entire adult life. The colorful vibrant orange is to warn predators that the Monarch butterfly (as it was in its caterpillar state) is poisonous too!
So Happy rearing!