September's arrival always signals me to be on the lookout for Monarch butterflies. They will soon be migrating to their warmer habitats in Southern California and Mexico. With Kansas being in the center of the U.S., we are smack dab in the middle of the "highway to Mexico".
The Chaplin Nature Center usually offers their butterfly tagging on a September weekend. Call for details as it is a fun way to get up close and personal with Monarchs. It's always fun and informative and the kiddos will love it.
There was one particular migration (almost 25 years ago) that anyone who loves Monarchs is sure to remember. I myself have not seen another one like it. My coworkers and I gazed transfixed out the window as hundreds of Monarchs passed by for what seemed to be forever. There were so many that we could barely see across the street. It appeared that they were using Summit Street as their main thoroughfare southward just as if they had consulted a map for directions. Of course, it was their built-in GPS guiding them along the way. Sadly, after they had passed by, the street was littered in an orange blanket from their contact with the cars.
Monarchs are declining in population according to research, but we can assist them by planting Butterfly Milkweed for them to lay their eggs on. This plant will feed the larvae and encourage the caterpillars to morph into those lovely winged creatures we so admire. Once they've become butterflies, we can offer nectar in the form of many lovely plants.
Most butterflies like blooms with wide flat areas which are easy for them to land on to feed. They are drawn to shape more than anyone color thus enabling the gardener to choose their own favorites. There are plantings available to make your gardens a three season smorgasbord. Spring plantings include: peonies, parsley, verbena, coreopsis, tall phlox and marigolds. Summer offers up lantanas, coneflowers, zinnas, bee balm, liatris, yarrow and gaura. Many of these continue into Fall and are supplemented by goldenrod, asters, mums and of course, sedums which oftentimes are covered totally in butterflies.
Our area of the country is often host to several other species of butterflies also. Here are a few along with some plants and trees favored by their caterpillars: Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (ash trees and lilac bushes), Black Swallowtail (parsley, dill and carrots).
Question Mark (elm and hackberry trees) and the Common Buckeye (verbena and snapdragons).
So, you may want to get yourself a Butterfly Identification Book then make a list of plants they (and you) prefer and plant your very own butterfly oasis. Remember to add a shallow dish (a pie pan works well) filled with damp sand for them to drink from and flat rocks tucked into sunny spots to sun themselves on. Soon, you'll have colorful fliers adding their own special beauty to your space.