I had to stop and smell the Marigolds, the native ones in our riparian buffers called Bur Marigolds. As I was putting up a new solar fence charger for one of our livestock exclusion areas, I had to just stop to watch. What froze me in my tracks was the sight of so many Monarch butterflies – those bright, orange and black, migrating ballerinas.
As I stood there motionless, more and more Monarchs came into focus. They would probe for nectar on one flower then flap their delicate wings and float to another. There must have been thirty or forty of them dancing among the flowers; a kaleidoscope of orange, black, yellow and green. Then the buzzing sounds of other pollinators came into focus. Bumble Bees, flies, and Ruby Troated Hummingbirds along with the Monarchs were having an agape feast on the wild, native flowers in the riparian buffer.
Native flowers feed the Monarchs
Bright yellow Bur Marigolds dominated the buffer followed by orange blooming Jewell Weed and the white blooms of boneset. All these are native to the Valley and we didn’t plant them. They just came on their own once we fenced the cattle out of the riparian area. These flowers and many others such as Ironweed, Grand Lobelia, Goldenrod and Fall Aster provide much-needed nourishment for the pollinators via their pollen and nectar.
Monarchs are fueling up to travel all the way to the fir forests in Mexico to hibernate. Some migrate from Canada to Mexico, a journey of 2,500 miles. They are the only insect to migrate this far.
They have four life stages and four generations in one year The fourth generation, the one I was mesmerized by, is the one that will migrate to Mexico . It’s complicated so learn more here.
Monarch caterpillars eat only Milkweed leaves
When the fourth generation Monarchs return in the spring they lay their eggs only on plants in the Milkweed family and the emerging caterpillars eat only leaves of the Milkweed. The riparian areas on our farm have many native plants including hundreds if not thousands of Milkweed plants.
Riparian buffers are the most important areas for wildlife because they provide food, shelter, and water. The leaves from native plants also feed the critters in the aquatic ecosystem. Jeanne and I are proud that we not only produce quality food for people to eat, our land cleanses overland flow of water and provides habitat for wildlife. We produce food, clean water, and fueling stations for Monarchs. We are part of a growing number of farmers that are improving their soil and their water to restore our river, Middle River and the Chesapeake Bay.
All photos by Robert Whitescarver and copyrighted.