Last winter we purchased five one-gallon pots of narrow-leaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) from CNPS East Bay’s Native Here Nursery (NHN) in Tilden Regional Park and planted a milkweed patch in our back garden. This June we found three small monarch butterfly caterpillars on the milkweed, but they had attracted a number of predatory paper wasps. We clipped the milkweed on which the caterpillars were feeding, placed it in a small vase, and put the small vase in a mesh-roofed aquarium we use to protect anise swallowtail caterpillars. We then purchased a 12 x 12 x 24-inch mesh butterfly habitat that could accommodate tall milkweed plants and moved the caterpillars into it along with several pots of milkweed that we rushed up to NHN to purchase. The young monarch caterpillars ate voraciously, spurring us to return to NHN and purchase more milkweed.
On June 17 and 18, they pupated, forming pale green and gold chrysalises that looked like little jewel boxes. We expected the butterflies to emerge in 10-14 days, but they did not—which added to our anxiety about the health of the developing butterflies. Like so many of their species, our monarchs were vulnerable to a number of problems that could affect their survival.
We spent a lot of time viewing Rich Lund’s fantastic educational videos about monarchs and were comforted by his reassurances—especially those that encouraged us to just be patient. On July 12, about 24 days after pupating, the first butterfly emerged. We called her Una before learning that she was a boy. (The male monarch butterfly has a highly visible black spot on each of its hind wings.) Dos, another male butterfly, emerged on July 13, and the female, Tres, emerged later that same day.
We were able to observe Tres emerging from her chrysalis. It happened quickly. She was very small and dark orange and black in color before settling on a plant and pumping body fluid into her wings to expand them, changing color to a lighter orange and black and preparing for flight.
We placed the butterflies on our garden plants in the sunshine and watched over them for almost four hours each until they took flight.
Our thanks to Native Here Nursery for growing Asclepias fascicularis, without which Una, Dos, and Tres would not be off on their adventures. Since we are still learning about raising monarchs and understand there is a fair bit of discussion about the plusses and minuses of rearing monarchs in home gardens, we’d be glad to hear from those with more experience who can help us understand how to best support these beautiful creatures.
— Jane and Tom Kelly
Visit the Native Here Nursery website for availability and information about growing narrow-leaf milkweed.