In my last two blogs I wrote about what not to include in your home landscaping (exotic invasive plants). In this blog I wanted to focus on some of the native plants we should include in our landscapes. Including native plants is important because they are adapted to our region and they also provide many important environmental services. It is also important because we are rapidly losing natural areas.
To illustrate some simple things you can do to “green” Wheaton, I wanted to write about what my neighbor is doing to provide habitat for Monarch butterflies. By making several simple changes to her yard over time, my neighbor Amy Cassagnol has not only beautified her yards, but she is also helping to “green” Wheaton. Amy, along with many others in the Wheaton community, is planting butterfly gardens using native plants. Amy has done this by simply incorporating several native plants including various milkweed plants in her gardens to attract Monarch butterflies. Milkweeds are important food sources for monarch caterpillars; without them the caterpillars will starve. In addition to caterpillar food, butterflies need good nectar sources. There are many plants that are considered good nectaring sources including Bee Balm, Purple Cone Flower and Black-Eyed Susan flowers. The main objective of your butterfly garden should be to provide a diversity of native plants that bloom at different times of the year. Butterfly gardens don’t have to be large; they can be as small as flower boxes. They can also be incorporated into larger landscapes. For more information about plants for your butterfly garden, check out these websites: (http://www.nps.gov/plants/pubs/chesapeake/, http://www.wildflower.org/collections/collection.php?collection=usfws_ches and http://pollinator.org/PDFs/Guides/SoutheastMixedForestrx5FINAL.pdf).
In addition to providing valuable habitat, Amy uses RainScapes techniques (a rain garden and conservation landscaping) to mange stormwater and help protect Sligo Creek and its aquatic habitats. Many butterfly friendly plants thrive in rain gardens and conservation landscapes.
Amy has not only provided habitat in her yard, but also works to protect habitat in Sligo Creek Park. Amy has been trained by the county to identify and remove exotic invasive plants from our parks. She is a certified Montgomery County Weed Warrior. From time to time Amy removed exotic invasive plants that are smothering our native Milkweed plants in Sligo Creek Park. If you don’t have land to plant a butterfly garden, you can “adopt” a section of our parks and protect our native flowers.
About Monarch butterflies: Monarch Butterflies are fascinating. The female butterfly quickly goes from milkweed leaf to milkweed leaf laying a single small egg under the leaf. Monarch caterpillars grow very fast. In two weeks, a caterpillar will weigh 3,000 times more than when it was born. Milkweed plants contain chemical compounds that are poisonous to most vertebrates, but not poisonous to the monarch caterpillar. As monarchs eat milkweed plants, the plant toxins accumulate in the monarch caterpillar. When the Monarch caterpillar is small, however, the level of toxins is too low to make the caterpillar poisonous. We have noticed that many of the young Monarch caterpillars are getting eaten. Perhaps the lack of vegetative cover (loss of good habitat) for the caterpillars is one of the reason predators are finding the caterpillars so quickly. To help the Monarchs, Amy has made several “caterpillar houses” to raise and protect the caterpillars until they are butterflies. Watching the caterpillars grow is fascinating. See this blog’s video link of one of Amy’s caterpillars becoming a chrysalis. There is so much more about Monarch butterflies. Interested in learning more? Visit http://www.pollinator.org/PDFs/NAPPC.Monarch.broch.ver7.pdf
Amy’s impact is magnified by the fact that she is a teacher and takes the caterpillars into her elementary school classroom and shares her knowledge with her students. She also talks to the neighbors about butterflies and how they can help create butterfly gardens in their yards.
Monarch butterfly habitat is rapidly disappearing. If you are interested in helping Monarch butterflies by planting a butterfly garden, Monarch Watch has some good information. See www.MonarchWatch.org.