Two Decades of Butterfly Garden at the Orchard at Altapass

The Orchard at Altapass Monarch MigrationThis year, the Orchard at Altapass celebrates its 25th anniversary—the time literally flying by. A few years into the stewardship, co-founder Judy Carson and naturalist Elizabeth Hunter planted a butterfly garden in memory of Jan McKinney Conley, a friend who had recently died. Over the decades, this small plot of showy flowers has seen good and bad times but has always held forth to provide the butterfly and bee a plentiful stopping over point.
 
Since the late '90s, the Orchard has focused on the Monarch—that beautiful multi-colored butterfly that appears wherever milkweed grows. It is on these podded wildflowers (Milkweed is not a weed.) that the Monarch lays her eggs, where the larva feed, the chrysalis encases, and where they finally burst into flight, and head south. The Orchard Monarchs migrate to Mexico where they spend time in the warmth of the southern climate. Millions of these orange and black flyers fill the branches of trees in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, the wintering-over forest about 100 miles north of Mexico City.
 
As part of the Orchard’s mission to preserve the natural environment, the butterfly program originated as an experiment to determine if Monarchs could coexist and thrive in a traditional, carefully controlled, chemical apple orchard. The answer was resounding—Yes. The preservation and cultivation began in earnest. As prime pollinators for wildflowers and cross-pollinators in the creation of more disease resistant plants, the Monarch’s continuation was important and remains so today.
 
The Orchard is a natural home for the milkweed, and the garden provides the fuel needed for those new and just passing through Monarchs. Today, the tiny eggs are collected and nurtured during the five-week metamorphosis. Those born in the fall fly almost 1,500 miles to their winter homes. Over the last decade, the Orchard has tagged hundreds of Monarchs before they migrate. Although up to five generations can be born and die during one journey south, to date, six of those tagged by the Orchard have been found in Mexico at the migration site. (Tags weigh approximately 1% of the butterflies’ weight.) Information gathered is invaluable to the preservation of the butterfly, its environment and modulating health of the planet.
 
Although the changing climate worldwide and more specifically at the Orchard has affected the numbers of Monarchs, the Orchard continues to be a Monarch-friendly stop on its life cycle map. Come by to learn more about the Monarch butterfly and to watch the transformation. In late fall, pick up some milkweed seeds to add a “truck stop” for the Monarch in your own garden. And the Orchard is always seeking volunteers to help maintain the memorial garden and help with “saving the good stuff” for another quarter century. For more information about the Orchard and its programs, please go to www.altapassorchard.org. If you would like to get your hands a little loamy and help with the garden, please call Donna Stafford, Executive Director, at 828-765-9531.

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