/ Trails and Recreation,

Monarchs and Milkweed are a gateway to learning about other host plants

Tired of hearing about how to help the imperiled monarch butterfly yet? Yeah, me neither. We have a long way to go to restore the habitat needed by monarchs, so let’s keep up the good momentum.

Every pollinator patch and monarch way station helps, so please plant any one of our several native milkweed plants. The caterpillars only eat milkweed (Asclepias), a toxic plant that the bug converts into a defense mechanism. While the adult monarch is very beautiful and its multi-thousand mile annual migration is a true feat and spectacle, its life cycle is still mysterious to science. They inspire wonder and worship in many cultures, let’s not let Monarch steal the show.

There are many more relationships like the one monarchs have to plants in the natural world and learning about one can lead to gardening for other host plants.

‘Host plants’ are, in short, food for caterpillars. Some plants like oak trees are host to many, many different species of butterflies and moths.

Some bugs, like monarchs and the others following, have evolved over deep time to specialize in using just one plant as a host.

The end result of both of those strategies is the same: the plant helps birth bugs that will pollinate its flowers and the cycle goes on.

Modern western science and traditional indigenous knowledge both tell us that plants cater these relationships as an act of generosity, uplifting the whole natural community around themselves.

It’s not ‘competition to be the fiercest’ but rather ‘cooperation for everyone to be their fullest.’

Let me present two such relationships to get you started down the path. Just like the monarch, the long-tailed skipper butterfly (Urbanus proteus) is very beautiful, having iridescent blue wings with long hind wings.

Like most all Skippers, it has an active, seemingly scattered flight pattern, bouncing from flower to flower (making it difficult to photograph!).

This bug needs the also very beautiful flowering American wisteria vine for a host plant.

That’s American wisteria (W. frutescens) and no, no, no, not Chinese wisteria (W. sinensis); the latter of which seems bent on dragging down trees, barns and telephone poles. I can personally attest if you plant American wisteria, this bug will show up as if on call. American wisteria is very fragrant, flowers prolifically and makes a great arbor or fence without strangling at all.

The next bug is the snowberry clearwing moth. It’s a bee-mimicking moth with clear wings.

This interesting and delightful moth may be seen if its host plant, the hemp dogbane, is nearby.

Moths like this one do a huge amount of pollinating.

First thoughts may be of honeybees when thinking of pollination, but there are untold moths, beetles, ants, mosquitos, gnats, wasps and other bugs who are real heroes to pollination. And speaking of other bugs, the hemp dogbane plant is also a host for the golden dogbane beetle, which can digest the plant toxins it eats to create a defense mechanism.

So next time you take a bite of a fruit or vegetable, think of all the different types of pollinators out there making your life possible, and the complex interdependent relationships they have.

Biodiversity of plants and their partnered insects directly equate to your personal food security.

Pavement, monoculture corn and lawns aren’t gonna cut it.

All the Teslas and recycled plastics in the world aren’t going to either.

Restoration and then stewardship of our natural landscape, together with the wisdom of all life being in relation and reciprocity is the path to peace and security.

Torry Nergart is an avid adventurer, a local Brevard dad and spouse who just happens to be conservation easement manager for Conserving Carolina, a calling that often puts him in a climbing harness, or waders, on a bike, or, yes, in a kayak to protect the land and water we all love.

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