Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Liz Gabor’s Caterpillar to Monarch Journey

St Andrews Square resident Liz Gabor in her backyard with flats of sprouting narrow-leaf milkweed that Monarch butterflies require for food and nesting.

This is the third article in a series the Larchmont Buzz is publishing on spring planting, pollinators in peril, and drought tolerant garden design.

My husband and I had no idea what an amazing journey our impulse-buy at the LA Arboretum would set in motion.  Passing through the plant store on our way to the car, a fetching 3 foot tall milkweed plant caught our attention.  We knew Monarch butterflies were in danger due to the scarcity of milkweed (which, in turn, is due to the rampant use of weed killer).  We thought, let’s buy it, put it in our garden and see what happens.

In no time at all, we discovered the most precious tiny caterpillars on the underside of several leaves.  More and more appeared and before we knew it, we were the proud parents of about 50 voracious and rapidly growing creatures.  These babies were eating machines and our little tree was rapidly consumed before our eyes.

We bought two more plants for back-up and transferred the caterpillars big enough to be moved safely.  We didn’t touch the caterpillars directly with your hands as this can introduce contamination, so used a twig or leaf taken from a milkweed plant. That way we coaxed it onto the leaf and then nestled it in the plant until the caterpillar crawled off on its own time.

It’s also very important to use the proper species of milkweed.  Asclepias fascicularusor narrow-leaf milkweed, is rarely available at nurseries, but can be purchased at the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley or through me.  The South American tropical types of milkweed that is often found in nurseries, carry a fungus (called “OE”) that Monarchs carry from plant to plant on their belies, further spreading the fungus. After mature butterflies lay eggs on the milkweed plant, caterpillars eat the fungus-infected milkweed and their wings do not grow properly in chrysalis — thus they die before flight!  Thus this milkweed is a big No-No!

In all, we bought half a dozen back-up milkweed plants to accommodate our caterpillar demand.  A cold snap in the forecast could have been the end of our growing family so we brought all plants indoors for safety.  They remained inside for a couple weeks and soon we noticed the caterpillars hanging motionless and upside down.  We knew this meant they were ready for their second metamorphosis.

The two chrysalises looked like tiny Christmas ornaments.
The two chrysalises looked like tiny Christmas ornaments.

On Christmas morning I discovered a Christmas miracle: our first chrysalis had formed!  This is truly one of Nature’s most exquisite ornaments!  More and more bright green and golden ‘acorn-like’ jewels appeared that had minutes before been caterpillars.  The metamorphosis takes about only 20 minutes and we were lucky enough to see it happen once with our bare eyes.

The wings form. Photo credit: Smitty West.
The wings form. Photo credit: Smitty West.

In the next few days, the brilliant green ornaments turned black, then transparent and we were able to see the orange and black butterfly wings folded tightly inside.  Soon the monarch butterflies began to emerge and before we knew it, they began flapping their wings, threatening to fly around the house!

 

Monarch-in-houseWe took them outside just in time, set them free, and watched like proud parents as they took off into the gentle wind on the power of their own fragile wings.  

Liz Gabor is an animal rights activist, conservationist, and avid gardener.  A New York City native, she now lives in Hancock Park where her dream to own a large garden for growing organic produce, native plants, and flowers has finally come to fruition. Feel free to contact here with questions or comments at [email protected].

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Larchmont Buzz: Pollinators in Peril – Plant for the Monarch Butterfly

 

 

 

Larchmont Buzz: Pollinators in Peril – Plant for the Monarch Butterfly

Larchmont Buzz: Pollinators in Peril – Bees

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