Wandering among your blossoming plants during the summer is a reward for a job well done. Butterflies decorate colorful flowers and bees’ soft hum orchestrates the pollination process in which both species participate. North Carolina’s native plants like bee balm, Joe Pye weed, and hyssop are covered with insects seeking nectar and pollen.
Despite the abundance of insects that appear in gardens, the decline in numbers among honeybees and monarch butterflies has been especially noted in books and in articles. Ways to prevent further loss of these helpful and beautiful insects are topics discussed in two informative new books.
100 Plants to Feed the Bees
Xerces Society book
Produced by the Xerces Society, 100 Plants to Feed the Bees (Storey Publishing, 2016) offers advice to “provide a healthy habitat to help pollinators thrive.” Although the title emphasizes bees, symbols indicate whether each plant is a food source not only for bees but also for hummingbirds, butterflies, and moths. The book’s introduction explains pollination development in biological history and how contemporary plants produce seeds.
Each plant’s description includes its growth requirements, uses, and the area of the U.S. where it flourishes. Photographs of the blossoms and a listing of the recommended varieties of each plant are provided. Perhaps the introduction of these plants will help decrease the 44 percent loss that the 2015 and 2016 bee colonies experienced.
St. Lynn’s Press book
The monarch butterfly population has dropped 90 percent in the last twenty years according to Kylee Baumle, the author of The Monarch (St Lynns Press, 2017). As with bees, pesticides are partially responsible for this decline, but another important cause is the loss of milkweed, the nursery plant of monarchs. Only on milkweed will eggs be laid, and the emerging caterpillars ingest only milkweed leaves. Toxic compounds in milkweed’s sap remain in the caterpillar and butterflies to discourage consumption by predators. Herbicides and development of previously open land have limited the milkweed’s presence.
In addition to the monarch’s plant requirements, their migration is unique among butterflies. An ordinary monarch lives 2 to 6 weeks, but monarchs that migrate in fall are conditioned to live several months to allow them to fly as far as 2800 miles to Mexico and return north to breed in spring.
Interest in the lives of the monarch has lead to a tagging program in which anyone can participate. After explaining the process of applying non-harmful identification, Baumle recommends viewing Monarch Watch’s website. Here one can discover how to assist scientific data collection on monarchs by tagging those in your area.
Baumle’s book will be especially helpful to elementary teachers and to gardeners. Instructions provided on how to raise monarchs from egg to adult butterfly will simplify lessons on the insect’s life cycle. Gardeners will find lists of every variety of milkweed and nectar plant preferred by butterflies to grow in their location.
Give the insects that pollinate a treat for their labors by looking for empty sunny spots that could hold a milkweed or a nectar plant.
Christine Thomson is a Raleigh gardener obsessed with plants. She is a volunteer at the JC Raulston Arboretum and fills her spare time reading books, especially volumes about vegetation.