Pollinators in July
July is already upon us, and the bees and other pollinators are busy fulfilling their mission. There is always a swarm of activity outside in my garden and in the fields, and the air is filled with the soft buzzing and humming as they go about their business. The other day, I must have gotten some small insect (fortunately, not a stinging or biting one) stuck in my hair. I could hear a small whizzing noise in my ear, but I couldn't tell exactly where he was. I unclipped the barrette that keeps my hair out of my way when I am working, and shook my head and fluffed out my hair. He must have gotten out, as the noise stopped.
Social media, as well as articles in the newspapers and magazines, are all focusing on the plight of the monarch butterfly. The monarch needs a specific plant - milkweed (Asclepias) - for its young to grow and thrive. They have adapted by eating this bitter plant, which causes predators to leave them alone, as the toxins in the milkweed make the larvae and butterfly a very nasty snack. I have always left almost all of the native milkweed to bloom and flourish in my yard. It is very fragrant, and the bees love it, too. The fields around my house had always been filled with this plant, but now there are many houses with manicured lawns and no milkweeds. So I try to keep as many on my property as I can.
When I was quite young, my sister and I found some monarch larvae and brought them home. I went out daily to find milkweed plants (under power lines, in vacant lots) so they could feed on them. They soon spun their cocoons, and one day, they emerged from their pupae stage and became butterflies. It was an awesome experience, as we let them dry their wings and then opened the wire and let them go free.
I have never found a monarch butterfly larvae on any plants in my yard. That is not to say they aren't there - I just haven't seen them. I make sure that there are lots of plants to attract all kinds of pollinators in my yard, because I don't know what each one wants. Rue, dill, fennel, angelica, sunflowers, roses, alliums, echinacea, mints - these herbs all are attractive to bees, moths and butterflies. I have a couple of butterfly bushes, though they are considered invasive and I wouldn't plant them now. I haven't seen them escape the confines of my yard. And they do attract many butterflies with their beautiful flowers.
The best thing we can all do is to plant as many native plants, shrubs, trees and vines as we can. That way, all of the native bees, wasps, and other pollinators will have their choice of plants for nectar and foliage for the larvae. Don't spray, either, if you can help it. Let's sacrifice some of our plants so we can maintain the balance of nature.
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