Butterflies enjoying orange butterfly weed

Great Spangled Fritillary Butterflies enjoying the butterfly weed

This holiday weekend farm visitors will be treated to a rare sight—over 100 native Orange Butterfly Weed plants (Asclepias Tuberosa) in full bloom. These eye-catching milkweed plants are a favorite food source for all bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds,  and most importantly, are preferred hosts for egg-laying Monarch Butterflies.

Last year, as part of an experiment designed to attract and help breed migrating Monarch Butterflies and other pollinators, Fishkill Farms planted a row of seedlings near its annual flower crops. By August, the flowering Butterfly Weed plants proved to be magnets for egg-laying Monarchs, as well as a popular food source for other pollinators. Within weeks, Monarch Butterfly caterpillars could easily be seen on numerous plants, and by Sept. 15 we counted just over two dozen fully-grown (5th Instar) caterpillars munching away on the plant’s leaves.

Fortunately, Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed plants, so they don’t damage any other farm resources. Our next step was to protect and house as many full-grown caterpillars as possible during their transformation from caterpillars into mature butterflies.

Releasing a newly formed monarch butterfly into the wild

Releasing a newly formed monarch butterfly into the wild

Our experiment turned out to be a great success. By the end of October, we raised and released nearly 3-dozen Monarch Butterflies from those

 hand-picked caterpillars, and who knows how many more made it on their own from the dozens of caterpillars we left on the plants.

In November, we also harvested all of the Butterfly Weed seed pods for use in future plantings, However, 90% of the plants came back healthier than expected (they love direct sunlight and the farm’s soil), so we can create other plantings around the farm with last year’s seeds.

We can safely predict that visitors will be able to spot Monarch Butterflies and a wide variety of other butterflies and pollinators from early July until late October. So why not bring your binoculars and count butterflies while sipping a glass of Treasury Cider on the covered porch or watch them flutter up close on your way to pick raspberries. (Where else can you do that?)

Milkweed within viewing distance from our outdoor porch

Milkweed within viewing distance from our outdoor porch

Want to help us keep track of the Monarch population at the farm or track the progress of the Monarch Spring and Fall migrations? Visit JourneyNorth.org, a site with up-to-date migration maps and butterfly info, plus a cool phone app that can help scientists track Monarch Butterflies and other migrating animals in real-time.

Monarch butterfly

Female Monarch butterfly laying eggs on young orange butterfly weed

Butterfly Whisperer photos and copy by Michael J. McNamara, a life-long resident of the Hudson Valley, and a photojournalist and videographer. You can view his nature and commercial portfolios at McPhotoVideo.com, or follow him on Instagram at McNamara_79.