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Signs like these will soon be springing up all over the City of Garland, Texas.

Native Milkweed is named "Perennial Plant of the Year"

Every year since 1990 the Perennial Plant Association has designated a “Perennial Plant of the Year.”  Selection often launches the chosen plant to the mainstream and makes it more widely available.  Usually this organization favors non-native ornamentals.  However, this year they broke with their tradition and selected a native milkweed—Asclepias tuberosa.

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Along with many other cities in the DFW area, Garland, Texas is also getting on the Milkweed Bandwagon.  The entire city–all 57 square miles of Garland--is on a transformational path to becoming one giant Monarch habitat.  At the heart of this transformation are those in our community leadership such as Mayor Athas, a strong supporter of urban agriculture, who care and are taking steps to educate our residents regarding our important relationship to pollinators.

The Monarch butterfly, because of its majesty and beauty, is the flagship species for all pollinators.  However, all pollinators, especially our native bees, are important to our survival, as pollinators are responsible for one of every three bites of food that we put into our mouths.

Thanks to funding recently awarded to the City of Garland, milkweed seeds will be purchased and given to Garland residents to establish pollinator habitats in their yards.   Those who establish habitats will be given signs to place in their yard to advertise and advocate for the Monarch and all pollinators who are critical to maintaining the security of our food supply.

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Close-up of Monarch caterpillar in Milkweed patch at the Garland Community Garden – April 26, 2017

Growing milkweed requires patience, but has its rewards.

Perhaps once it gets established, common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) takes off like the weed it is.  I don’t know.  But I do know that it seems to take two years for native milkweed to establish in our area after the seed has been planted.  Perhaps our winters are too mild to effectively cold-stratify the seeds. 

This year, especially in one bed, we have lots of milkweed plants sprung up from seed planted in 2015.  This week I am carefully thinning and transplanting them.  According to most experts these plants should be planted about 3 feet apart.  Smaller plants are more likely to survive as transplants due to the long taproot that is typical of the milkweed.

Yesterday when Jane and I were down at the garden, I inspected our small immature stand of milkweed and to my surprise discovered a Monarch Caterpillar as shown in the previous photo.  After the children left we discovered a female Monarch depositing her eggs on a milkweed growing in our Medicine Wheel.  This Monarch was definitely one from Mexico as she was faded and somewhat worn looking. 

 

Female Monarch depositing eggs on milkweed – Garland Community – April 27, 2017

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Monarchs and Students Galore in the Garland Community Garden Today

This afternoon (April 27, 2017) we had 69 first grade students from Beaver MST, a Garland magnet school visit the garden from noon to 1:45. It was a busy fun time for all of us—students, teachers, parents and Loving Garland Green members.  The event began with Jane Stroud, President Loving Garland Green, telling the students about our Monarch Citizen Science projects and teaching them how to distinguish a Monarch from its other two lookalikes:  the Queen butterfly and the Viceroy butterfly.

Activities in the Garden Today  

 

 Parents and Teachers held project posters the students while the students explained their projects to a panel of parents and members of Loving Garland Green – Garland Community Garden April 27, 2017

  • Student Presentations
    The students had recently conducted experiments with food and they presented reports of the results to members of Loving Garland Green and to the parents.  The kids were great.  They had made posters illustrating the results of their experiments.  I was able to see three of the presentations.  One was re-growing celery, another was re-growing lettuce, and the third one involved rooting a potato.  Altogether there were six different presentations going on simultaneously in different places in the garden.

  • Planting Sweet Potato Slips
    Jane Stroud taught the children all about growing sweet potatoes in a container.  The children planted about 30 potato slips in four containers.

  • Decorating One Large Recycled Pot
    Each one of the students signed a large recycled pot that that been retrieved from a local nursery’s throwaway pile by a Loving Garland Green member.  They used chalk markers.  After the children left, we sprayed the pot with a clear acrylic sealer.  The pot will be given to the North Garland High School Environmental Club for planting their sweet potatoes in.

  • Loofah Tunnel Madness and Seed Sharing
    Charlie led the Loofah activities for the day.  All the children we able to walk through his new addition to the tunnel (a smaller version just for kids).  Since it is too early for loofahs we had loofah sponges tied to the tunnel trellis along with photographs of loofahs when they are in their gourd form.  Charlie took some loofah sponges and shook them to show the children the seeds inside.  And what do you think?  They each wanted a seed to take home and plant and so it happened.  There were enough seeds to go around.  In addition to those seeds, Ms. Jane had brought a seed packet of Kentucky Wonder Beans for each of the students as well.

  • Monarch Release Finale
    Jane brought five Monarch butterflies that she had rescued as caterpillars a few weeks ago in her yard.  The towel on top of the condos was loose and two of the Monarchs escaped during the activities.  However as we were getting the condo (mesh laundry basket) to bring up for the presentation, we spied two monarchs mating on the grass in between our garden hose.  The male was definitely a faded tattered specimen who had overwintered in Mexico but the female looked fresh and we suspect was one that had escaped from the condo.  Charlie, our resident Monarch Whisperer got both butterflies and put them in the condo. 

    The students learned how to sign the word butterfly.  We took a few photos of them and then released the Monarch butterflies in the garden.  I can only hope that someone got a great shot of their spellbound faces.  Most of them had their mouths open as the Monarchs winged their way skyward.

 

 

Students from Beaver MST Watch as Monarchs are released in the Garland Community Garden—April 27, 2017

The rewards for the day were many, but Jane summed it all up with her lovely smile of appreciation as she told me that one of the students came up to her and hugged her and thanked her.  The children were wonderful and like all Garland ISD students, polite and attentive.  It is such a pleasure to share our Garland Community Garden with them.

 

Some of the Monarchs in the Garland Community Garden today were really huge!  This particular subspecies is called Robertus.

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