It was a humid, rain-soaked summer morning. My dog Tia and I went for a walk on a dirt road near our home in the village of Minong, Wisconsin. No one used the road, and we had the woodlands and prairie all to ourselves, just the way we liked it. Problems disappeared when we were out in nature. The sun glistened, and occasionally small agate stones smiled back from the steamy earth. I stooped to pick one up and pocketed the tiny red gem.
Tia decided to go adventuring. Looking into a prairie, I saw my dog’s white-tipped tail waving in tall native grasses kissed by dewdrops. She looked up as if checking on me. After seeing me, Tia went back to frolicking. After awhile, she returned to my side. We heard the sweet song of chick-a-dees in Jack pine trees. The birds were enjoying tree nuts and insects. We heard their Thanksgiving song. I knew that milkweed grew in a nearby field, and we went over to investigate and to see if any life was astir after the rain.
Bending down, I look on the underside of the milkweed leaves and saw a monarch caterpillar sleeping under the protection of the soft green roof. Rainbow-colored water drops dripped from its back, and still, the caterpillar slumbered. Did it dream that soon this part of its life would end? Soon the caterpillar would change into a pupa, and then a beautiful monarch butterfly. Did the butterfly come to tell us that we too would be transformed and emerge into a new form?
Sadly, Tia passed away in the fall, and my life changed dramatically and forever. I became an executive director of a nonprofit public charity, Happy Tonics, that implemented sanctuary for the monarch butterfly. My name was given to me by Dr. John “Little Bird” Anderson. In Ojibwe, I am called Memengwaaikwe, which means Butterfly Woman. Looking back on this rain-drenched morning, I know my life was transformed forever, just as the tiny messenger foretold.
Roundup kills milkweed, the only host plant of the monarch butterfly. Citizen scientists have known for a few years now that the decline of milkweed is due to pesticide use which has depleted monarch populations in the Midwest where most of GMO corn and soy crop is planted now. What was once a diverse pollinator corridor has been reduced to remnant tallgrass prairie. Prairie has gone down by 90 percent in the USA.
Happy Tonics created a restored native tallgrass prairie, as a Monarch Butterfly Habitat, in Shell Lake, Wisconsin. We must do more. Gardeners need to plant milkweed to enable the monarch butterfly to rebound.
Continuing story. Latest updates are below at bottem of this post.
Ju;y 2, 2011 Storm saga: The temperature was about 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the valley yesterday. Late afternoon I went outside and felt a few rain drops falling. I raised my eyes and arms up to the sky and silently said, “Thank you.” The vegetable gardens needed rain. It was too hot and I knew the rain barrel was near empty. I would be grateful for rain and lower temperature. Midwesterners in Northwest Wisconsin are not used to torturous heat. Besides, I have Lymn’s disease again and not supposed to be out in the sun for the next 21 days while on antibiotics. Instead of working I decided to walk down the street.
I can’t help it. I am an Earthy woman who loves and lives within the elements. My passion is gardening and butterflies. I am more at home outside than in and have always been this way since childhood. When it started to rain more consistently, I turned around and headed home.
I observed clouds coming from the south. They could be viewed at the top of the Minong hills and looked like an impenetrable wall. I puzzled why were the clouds so low to the ground? I didn’t feel alarmed in that moment simply curious. I did not know that something significant was about to happen. I walked inside the house and began to watch a Netflix movie in the living room. While spread out on a sleeping bag, all of a sudden the electricity went off. Loud groaning and tearing sounds mixed with high wind pitch. The sounds were beyond any beyond anything I had ever heard. I got up and walked to the only space on the main floor that doesn’t have windows.
There I waited in a darkened hallway. I felt and heard the bones of my aged redwood home creaking and moaning and knew that the structure was being tested. The high winds roared down the chimney. I could hear the wind in the attic above me. At the same time, some knowledge more ancient than I made me realize that I was protected by a healing blanket around me. I was not afraid. I felt secure in this thought. With my bare feet firmly placed on the floor I felt connected to earth. I reached for the water pendent necklace hanging from a nail in the hallway and felt the water totem would protect me now. I grabbed the necklace and put it on. I held onto it and knew matter how forceful the rain and wind were, I would be safe.
My Facebook friend Worth Cooley Prost had given me a glass pennant neckland as a gift. She creates glass water jewelry. Worth is immersed in ceremony before and throughout the creative process. Her Earthly role is honoring and loving water especially oceans. I have not met Worth yet. I know her through mutual water work. I am a council guide for the Sisterhood of the Planetary Water Rites headquartered in California. Women carry the responsibility of honoring the gift of water. It is a woman’s role to protect water. The Sisterhood was formed to embrace water and to teach others to be grateful for the gift. Water is not a commodity that can be bought, sold or traded. It is a gift. Women share the role so that we can protect fresh water for present and future generations.
Notes: Thoughts on losing pine trees and birch. Bonding with an adult monarch as I lightly held my hand out and she walked on my fingers to reach nectar. Precious moment. A few weeks ago, I saw a mother monarch lay eggs on milkweed in this colony. The property maintenance people mowed over it a few days later. I hadn’t protected it quite fast enough. I did see that some of the milkweed continued to grow and quickly, low fencing was bought. This time by golly, I was going to fence the colony off. Today I witnessed the first monarch caterpillar to survive in this very patch of milkweed. Last year, July 4, 2010, I lost my husband to cancer.
July 5 – My friend Janice Organ contacted me via Facebook asking if she could help. Janice came today from Shell Lake. Both of us worked all morning to rake the back property and to pick up limbs and twigs. I feel so much better knowing that at least the open lawn areas are cleared of debris.
Janice Organ helps with storm clean up.
We had some transforming conversation too. Janice was able to see a mother robin teaching her fledgling to fly and also to pick juneberries ripening on a tree. It was thrilling to internalize the message. We all must learn to trust ourselves and fly. The old world order is becoming obsolete with deteriorating natural resources, diminishing world fresh water supply and humans being disconnected to the very natural world that supports life. What is needed now is to learn about sustainability of the changing environment and to find ourselves within the natural world order.
“Evidence of significant patterns of change over the past 10,000 years confirms that substantial ecosystem changes can occur as a result of changes in climate. Presuming future changes occur to the same extent as past changes, tribes that trace their ancestry to the wooded regions will slowly become overtaken by grasslands. Such that the entire nature of place for many Native peoples is likely to change.” Source: Climate Change Impacts on the United States. Chapter 12 – Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change by Schuyler Houser, Verna Teller, Michael MacCracken, Robert Goughs, and Patrick Spears.
The city crews came today to cut and remove some of the street laden fallen trees. I am grateful to them and the new Board members who are making sure that village residents are helped with the cleanup. It is massive. Did I tell you about Hoppy (sp) who works for electric company? He made sure after being three days without electricity that my neighbors across the street were given higher priority because my friend Henrietta needed oxygen. My roof and electric pipe on the roof are damaged so Hoppy made sure I had a temporary wire hookup so I too would have electricity now. What wonderful people who you can count on where there is a natural disaster.
July 6, 2011 – Grandmother Tonya Whitedeer recently published portions of this article in the July issue of the Sisterhood of the Planetary Water Rites Newsletter. She said, “Mary Ellen called me the morning after this act devastation…at first I was amazed at her bravery and calmness…but then I realized that she understands the prophecies and knows that we are in the midst of them now…these are the changes that are preparing for a New Earth to be reborn. If we stand in our Trust as Mary Ellen did and stand also upon and within her sacred space of Truth…we can all be survivors and teachers for our Mother Earth…AHO…. Grandmother Whitedeer
May 23 – Happy Tonics participated in the “My Secret Garden” event at the Comfort Suites in Hayward hosted by the Cable and Hayward Area Arts Council. The nonprofit’s theme was butterfly gardens. One of the highlights was showing Dakota Robinson’s story board that illustrates the migration route of the monarch butterfly from Mexico to Canada. The youngster started a petition to stop roadside spraying of herbicides and insecticides during migration season. Roads and rivers are the main travel route of monarch butterflies. Herbicides kill milkweed, the host plant and insecticides kill larva and adult butterflies. Many guests attending the garden gala; were familiar with the plight of the monarch butterfly and signed the petition. Others also knew about Shell Lake’s Monarch Butterfly Habitat and plan to come this summer.
May 26 – Mary Ellen Ryall and Dylan Hasbrouck attended a Destination Marketing Organization meeting, at Wild Rivers Outfitters, in Grantsburg. Dylan will be working with Happy Tonics this summer to help maintain the habitat. He is under Fresh Start’s umbrella which is building a house in Shell Lake. Dylan will also be in training to learn Internet marketing skills at the nonprofit’s Visitors Center/Store at 25 Fifth Avenue, Shell Lake.
In the morning, I stopped at the habitat and did a walk through to see what was starting to grow. Milkweed is emerging and averages 2” to 6” tall.
One colony of plants already has a monarch egg on each leaf. This is promising considering how cold and wet the spring has been so far. Remember monarchs do not fly when it is below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Monarchs return to Shell Lake about lilac time which is about now. Native June grass is already up. Prairie smoke flower is budding. Oyster plant is at the edible stage. Native shrubs and trees are flourishing and many are in flower including Juneberry, wild black cherry and chokecherry. Earlier this spring an Experience Works member Mike Kremer applied a good dose of compost and mulch to the trees and shrubs.
Remember to call in your first monarch butterfly sighting in Shell Lake. You will win a butterfly gift if you report the first sighting. Be sure to note day, time, your location, weather, and temperature as best as you can. Dial 715 468-2097 and leave a message if no answer. Someone will get back to you.
The male and female monarch butterfly will fly from Mexico to Texas. There they will mate and shortly thereafter die. The mother butterfly urgently needs to find milkweed to deposit her eggs on. This last act will insure the next generation of monarch butterflies. There are four generations that wind their way towards Canada. The fifth generation is the one that lives the longest and returns to Mexico in early fall. How does the butterfly know where milkweed grows?
The butterfly flits over a field or garden looking for milkweed. Watch the flight pattern and you may see a mother butterfly looking for a host plant. Plants have ultraviolet patterns on their leaves and flower petals making them visible to pollinators such as the monarch butterfly. Humans can’t see this but a butterfly can. A monarch uses a combination of visual and chemical cues to find milkweed.
Once a mother butterfly lands on milkweed, she uses sensory organs in her feet and head to make sure it is milkweed. A monarch may even drum on a milkweed leaf with her forefeet to be certain. The forefeet are located close to the head.
Notice that there are three eggs on the milkweed plant in the illustration.The mother butterfly carries approximately 200 eggs in her stomach. She touches the abdomen to the underside of a leaf and deposits an egg. The mother usually deposits only one egg per plant. There is a reason for this. It is probable that the first caterpillar to emerge from an egg will scout for other eggs. A caterpillar is able to defend its own food territory when there is no competition. Eggs have protein. Sometimes a mother butterfly is in a hurry and may deposit more than one egg on the same plant. This is known as egg dumping.
By depositing eggs on different milkweed plants, eggs have a better chance of survival if something goes wrong. There are many risks to milkweed including: Some plants may not be as hardy as others; a storm could destroy a plant; milkweed might be removed because a gardener thinks it is a weed; a land developer could clear cut a large track of land removing all native plants; farmers may plant monoculture crops, genetically engineered crops and may spray crops with pesticides.
There is a loss of approximately 3,000 acres of farmland each year to development. Roadside crews may use herbicides (ER-beh-syds) which poison milkweed, a plant that grows along roadways, one of the major corridors of butterflies. If there is no milkweed along the migration trail, there will be no monarch butterfly migration. This is why it is so important to let milkweed grow.
An important way to help the monarch butterfly is to first identify the host plant. Plant Identification has two names: Common and Latin. The birth of the monarch butterfly in the Chatbook frequently refers to common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). The italicized Latin name first describes the Genus that is capitalized followed by the species in lower case. Native plants are perennial. Once planted they will start their own colony thus ensuring the future of the plant species.
In spring, when milkweed is just emerging from the soil, the monarch returns to North America from Mexico. The butterflies will stop along the way in Texas where they will mate. Shortly after mating, the parents will die but not before the mother butterfly lays her eggs. Butterflies with more than one host plant have a better chance of survival than a monarch with only one host plant. The female butterfly deposits her eggs on milkweed and it is the only plant that young caterpillars or larvae (LAR-VEE) eat.
Common milkweed grows in prairies, along roadsides, in agricultural areas and fields, at the edge of forests and even in one’s own backyard. Milkweed originates in the Americas meaning it is a native plant. There are approximately 100 speciesof milkweed in North America alone. It is important to let milkweed grow for the monarch butterfly. Different generations of the monarch butterfly migrate to and from Mexico, North America and Canada each year, an estimated distance of 2,000 miles. Migrating north from Mexico, generations of female butterflies’ will need milkweed all along the migration trail. What is so special about milkweed?
Milkweed has several advantages. The plant has a long taproot which looks similar to a carrot taproot. Taproots can go deep into the earth to reach water; native plants do not need watering once they are established. Depth of plant roots is important in times of drought when there is little or no water. People around the world are starting to learn about Global Warming which can cause drought and severe storms.
Milkweed also contains cardiac glycoside a chemical that is toxic. Monarch caterpillars have the unique ability to eat the toxic leaves without any ill effect. Eating milkweed in its early life stage helps enable the adult butterfly to have a chemical defense against possible predators such as birds. Often birds will throw up after eating a monarch. Captured bluejays were researched and videotaped as they ate milkweed and afterwards by Anu Uno Chellappau. On the other hand, my friend Anna MartineauMerritt has seen a bird eating a monarch without getting sick. Robert Pyle attests to this too. He watched as orioles ate monarchs at the Mexican Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in El Rosario (55).
Sadly, I saw a monarch in my own garden that was less than 24 hours old. In the late afternoon it was resting peaceably on a bright pink zinnia flower and by early evening the new born butterfly had been attacked and killed by a predator. The wings were left behind but the body was gone. At times birds will eat the body which has nutritious fats. Perhaps a bird ate the body and not the wings where most of the toxins are stored. The butterfly also has bright colors that warn predators it is not good to eat.
News from Rhonda Richlen, Spanish Teacher, Valley View Elementary School, Ashwaubenon, WI. Rhonda bought milkweed seed in 2009 and 2010 from Happy Tonics online store at http://stores.ebay.com/happytonics
Since then, she has been passionate about starting a Monarch Waystation at the school. Rhonda says, “I am so excited by how beautiful it turned out! The 5th Grade Spanish Club students painted the sculpture for our garden focal point and it was donated as a gift to the school at the 5th Grade Graduation ceremony. I will be purchasing some more perennials to add to our garden.”
Happy Tonics is delighted to have inspired a teacher to grow milkweed for the monarchs. We have shipped common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) all over the country since 2008. Our nonprofit donors collect organic and wild grown seed from the East Coast and Midwest for the seed distribution program.
Jeffrey Glassberg, Past President, Xerces Society says, “Today butterflying is moving into a new phase. Primary activities will shift from collecting to field identification and study.” Happy Tonics has always believed in this philosophy especially for the monarch butterflies. The monarch butterfly is at risk as a migration phenomena (3).
Source: Butterflies of North America , An Activity and Coloring Book