Recently I went camping near my new home in Boise. I sat down with a cup of coffee and a notebook in my campsite one morning, enjoying the trilling of a meadowlark and a view of natural scrubland as I pondered (this is one of my favorite activities).
As my eyes roamed leisurely across the lawn on which I sat, what did I spy just next to my lawnchair but a milkweed seedling? After several minutes of scanning, I finally found another seedling about ten feet away. Trouble is, these seedlings were growing in a lawn. That probably meant they would be mowed down.
My morning became much less pleasant as I contemplated the fate of the monarch butterflies. Will their 2013 migration be the last? Will their iconic annual journey end within my lifetime?
It is only an abundance of milkweed stands throughout their migratory route that enables monarchs to make the arduous journey south. They are so short-lived that it takes up to five generations of butterflies to make the trip. It was discovered in 1976 that survivors spend each winter in one of several absurdly tiny patches of montane forest in Mexico and Southern California.
In hopes of attracting these graceful creatures to my garden, and for the rich sweet scent of its blooms, I had just planted some milkweed in my new courtyard garden. Now that I saw these seedlings that would not ever be allowed to mature, I wished I had planted more. I don’t want to own the land on which the last migrating monarch dies without being able to find any larval food for her precious eggs.
As I was listing my options in my notebook (sneak out after dark and dig up the seedlings, petition the state park to cordon off the area and let them bloom, visit a garden center for more milkweed as soon as I got home), the park ranger conveniently buzzed past on her four-wheeler. I leapt up and flagged her down and explained that I’d found these milkweed seedlings. Did she know about their connection to monarch butterflies? Oh yes she did. Would that area be mowed? Yes it would. Could I dig up those two seedlings and take them home? Sure, no problem.
Downing the last of my coffee, I rummaged for and found my collapsible shovel (what, you don’t carry one when you go camping?), and soon the two foundlings were packed in the empty mug and settled in the cup holder, ready to begin their own migration. At least now they will have a chance to feed some caterpillars.
(By the way, there’s still time! Buy some milkweed plants or sow regionally appropriate seed and you too can be a part of this great natural phenomenon.)