A while back I’d read that this year was good for the Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus. From Canada, through the mid-west states of the United States, and now in Texas, Monarchs are on the move in healthier numbers than in recent years. I saw my first autumn Monarch back in August, earlier than normal, but I never complain when I see a butterfly, especially a Monarch. Throughout September, individuals wafted through my garden, drifting up and down in gentle butterfly fashion, alighting to nectar on whatever flower caught their fancy.
In the past week, the amount Monarchs visiting my garden has exploded to numbers I haven’t seen in years–if ever.
On blooming, mostly native Texas perennials, there are 10-20 fluttering beauties sipping the good stuff from the flowers’ offerings.
It’s been many years since I’ve seen this number of Monarchs and I’d forgotten the soft sound of many butterfly wings as they whoosh from their feeding perches: joyful for the gardener and full of promise and life for the insect.
The Monarchs are nectaring on a variety of flowers, but wings-down their favorite is Frostweed, Verbesina virginica. I’m grateful that I grow a number of these tough native plants which produce blooms that Monarchs and many other pollinators love.
Monarchs are also fond of Gregg’s Mistflower, Conoclinium greggii. This charmingly fuzzy ground cover perennial blooms throughout summer, but the height of its blooming season is September through November–just in time for the Monarchs.
Interestingly, most of my close up photos are of male Monarchs. The two black dots on the hindwings indicate a male. Also, the black segment veins on their wings are thinner than those of females.
It’s not only the Monarchs that are gracing the garden, but scads of other pollinators are out in full force like this cousin-to-the-monarch, the Queen Butterfly, Danaus gilippus.
Monarchs and Queens resemble one another in their similar coloring, adorned with black veins and white dots, but Monarchs are larger than Queens. Unlike Monarchs, which we Texans only see during spring and autumn migration, Queens are familiar in Texas gardens throughout the year because they don’t migrate. It’s common that Queens are mistaken for Monarchs, but check out this great tutorial on how to tell the difference between the two.
Monarchs are fueling for their continuing migration to Mexico for winter. Other flowers they nectar from include this native Turk’s Cap, Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii,
…and the lush blooms of the Mexican Orchid tree, Bauhinia mexicana.
To witness the results of a successful year for this beleaguered and endangered creature is heartwarming, but it also validates my decision years ago to use mostly native plants in my garden and to always plant for the benefit of pollinators and other wildlife.
A garden is at its best when supporting life.