A few months ago, I noticed six or seven hungry monarch caterpillars finishing off the last leaves on a tall stalk of milkweed. I panicked, how will they survive? I transported the caterpillars to other milkweed plants with plenty of leaves. As I transported one particular caterpillar, our hearts melted and merged. I was filled with pure joy.
A few months later, a good friend died. To honor her I made a new garden and filled it with milkweed. As I planted, a monarch floated around. It was only a few weeks until the 13 plants were literally crawling with spectacular monarch caterpillars.
And then I saw the “J”.
After shedding it’s skin 5 times as it grows from a tiny “micro-pillar” into a finger sized “adult-pillar” a mature caterpillar sticks itself strongly to something and hangs in a “J” shape. I have spent hours watching and waiting to witness the transformation from “J” to chrysalis. I haven’t seen the entire process, I did catch a glimpse of the end of the show just once. It seems to take anywhere from a few hours to maybe a whole day to change itself from “J” into a chrysalis shown below:
In utter stillness for 9 – 10 days. I wait. Inside the chrysalis a thing called metamorphosis is happening. Just hours prior to emerging I can see through the now translucent chrysalis the orange wing of an adult monarch butterfly.
And I wait again, hoping to catch the moment of emergence. My patience falters. I start puttering in the garden. Five minutes later and she is out!
And now she has to hang and dry for a couple of hours. Once her wings are dry and she has her wits about her , off she flies into the breezy afternoon! Her beginning, a caterpillar’s end.
To all of this we owe the milkweed plant.
Milkweed is the only plant where monarchs will lay their eggs and the only plant that the caterpillars eat.
Prior to my monarch encounter a milkweed seed sprouted and grew. Reaching to the sun, aspiring for the sky, this milkweed fulfills its purpose as it is consumed by a hungry caterpillar destined to fly.
Milkweed needs the Earth to grow on.
People have been planting their homes and roads and malls and parking lots on top of this Earth to such an extent that the milkweed is quickly losing her home. No milkweed, no monarchs. Growing milkweed is a simple way to participate in this cycle of life. Just plain old milkweed – no fertilizer, no herbicide – keep it pure and simple so the caterpillars can maintain their health and vibrancy.
I have listed some sources of milkweed seeds, plants and more monarch information below. Please use the comment box below to add other sources.