THE STORY BEHIND THIS PROJECT
In the mid-1950s when I was living in Montreal, Quebec, my parents sent me (and my siblings) to the Montreal Botanical Gardens, where they had programs for children to learn about plants and so-called ‘weeds’, how to grow veggies and learning about common insects.
This is how one day I brought home a Monarch caterpillar and some Common Milkweed leaves, to raise it into a butterfly. I put it in a shoebox with a screen on top, and when it turned into a chrysalis, I left it on top of the curtain valence in my bedroom.
When it turned into a butterfly, I pinned it into an insect box and brought it back to the Montreal Botanical Garden for their insect collection.
I remember being fascinated by the beauty of the chrysalis as much as that of the butterfly that came out of it – its light green color, and especially its ‘necklace’ of golden dots. Those images got imprinted in my memory.
REPEAT – This experience had a lasting impact on my life, and I always wished I could repeat it some day. It finally happened when I started this current garden in 2006, when I immediately planted Butterfly Milkweed in the hope of attracting Monarch butterflies, followed by Swamp Milkweed two years after.
THE WAIT – Then the wait started, with some ‘false’ alarms (in the form of Viceroy butterflies) along the years. It’s only in the summer of 2017 that I finally observed an actual Monarch butterfly fluttering around in the garden.
In the weeks that followed, I eagerly inspected all my milkweed clumps and patches (located in different areas) for any sign of Monarch caterpillars, but to no avail. I could only hope that I would get the visit of that butterfly the following year – which happened.
FINALLY! This summer I actually found the caterpillars on the milkweed before I spotted any adult butterflies. There were dozens of those caterpillars, but only on the Butterfly Milkweed at first. Then they also appeared on the Swamp Milkweed. Not all of the milkweed patches or clumps had caterpillars – only the ones in open spaces, away from trees or shrubs.
WHY NOT? With this abundance of caterpillars, I decided to try raising some of them inside to increase their chances of survival. My ‘prior experience’ would give me a head start. Hence those web pages on the Monarch butterfly and on Milkweed.