Monarch nectaring at Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia)
You may have noticed that the late summer of 2019 has so far been a banner year for migrating Monarchs, as well as other species of butterflies. Not only are reports of good numbers of butterflies being shared all around Boston’s North Shore, but numbers are high across states east of the Rocky Mountains and the southern Canadian provinces. Let’s keep our hopes up that these current high counts will translate to strong numbers at the Monarch’s overwintering sites in Mexico.
I am very often asked, “what is that small Monarch?” Actually, it’s not a small Monarch but a butterfly of an entirely different species, the Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui). Every year we see Painted Ladies migrating at the seam time of year as do the Monarchs. Additionally, we are currently in the midst of a Painted Lady irruption. An irruption is a word used to describe a burst in the population numbers of a species.
Mourning Cloak, underside of wings
Here is a butterfly I don’t always see during the late summer migration, a Mourning Cloak. The generation that emerges at the end of the summer spends the winter not as a chrysalis or a caterpillar, but as an adult. They hibernate in the cracks and crevices of trees and buildings.
Mourning Cloaks are one of the first butterflies on the wing in earliest of spring and are a true harbinger of warmer days to come.
Mourning Cloak, upper, or dorsal side of wings showing
In the British Isles, the name for the Mourning Cloak is Camberwell Beauty. I much prefer that name, don’t you 🙂
The brilliant red-orange Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) is a beneficial pollinator magnet. Plant and they will come! Grow a patch of milkweed next to your Mexican Sunflowers and you will not only attract Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and an array of bee species, but every Monarch Butterfly in the neighborhood will be in your garden.
Its many common names include Red Torch Mexican Sunflower, Bolivian Sunflower, Japanese Sunflower, but one of the loveliest is ‘Golden Flower of the Aztecs.’ Tithonia rotundifolia grows wild in the mountains of Central Mexico and Central America.
Mexican Sunflower is one of my top ten favorites for supporting Monarchs, is extremely easy to grow, and deer do not care for its soft, velvety leaves. Plant in average garden soil, water, and dead head often to extend the blooming period. Ours flower from July through the first frost. Collect the seedheads after the petals have fallen off, but before they dry completely and the songbirds have eaten all the seeds.