The annual Butterfly Festival at Cherokee Pollinator Garden, adjoining the Rose Garden at Cherokee Lake Park will be Sunday, September 27, 2 to 4 p.m. There will be a pollinator/butterfly costume contest at 3, information table, cold water, tours of the garden, plant sale, etc.
Due to COVID19, all participants are asked to social distance or wear masks when close to others. Tents will be spread out and there will not be face-painting or other activities that require close contact or touching common objects. The great outdoors is the safest place to be during the pandemic as long as these precautions are maintained.
September and October are the peak butterfly season in the Southeastern U.S. Many species of butterflies are producing their last generation of caterpillars, chrysalides, and fresh adults for the year and also many are migrating south. Many migrate to the coast then further south into Florida or Texas. Monarchs go all the way to Mexico.
Monarchs are laying the eggs of the last generation for the year. This migrating generation will travel through Texas (up to 2,500 miles, 50 to 100 miles per day!, roosting in large groups at night) to spend the winter roosting in great masses in oyamel fir trees in the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico up to 2 miles above sea level. There may be 10,000 monarchs hanging in one tree! Monarchs are one of the few butterflies with a long migration like many birds. In March they migrate back from Mexico to the southeastern U.S. (when there are some passing through and sometimes some reproduction) with successive generations stopping to reproduce, growing about three to four more generations as they go further and further north, some into Canada. The northernmost generation migrates back south in late summer so people are most likely to see the greatest numbers of monarchs and reproduction in August thru October. The natural migration to Mexico, including those that have grown here, is at its peak in October. Then the plants go dormant as the weather cools.
The food for most adult butterflies is the nectar from a variety of flowers. In return the butterflies and other pollinators enable the plants to reproduce by spreading the pollen of the flowers. However with reproduction in butterflies, like much in nature, there is great specialization between the plants and animals. Many insects can only lay their eggs on specific plants, as these are the only ones their young can eat. Plants defend themselves from being eaten by putting out distasteful or poisonous compounds. As plants and pollinators evolved together, the insects specialized on specific plants for their caterpillars, evolving the defenses required to tolerate the chemicals those specific plants produce. In the genius of nature, that protects the plants from predation from too many species, and allows the insects to only have to develop defenses from a few plants. The plants the insects can reproduce on are called their host plants. A successful pollinator garden needs nectar and larval host plants nearby. Many native trees are also host plants.
Monarch and queen (a gorgeous butterfly in a muted shade of orange) butterflies adapted only to plants in the milkweed family. While the adults can nectar on many plants, they will only lay their eggs on milkweeds, as this is all their caterpillars can eat. No milkweed, no new generations of these butterflies. Milkweeds also support many other species of butterflies with their nectar. Several other insects, including many other helpful pollinators like some species of moths, also use them as host plants.
Cherokee Pollinator Garden contains many pink swamp milkweed, the easiest native to grow here. There are also a few plants of other species of milkweeds. There are many monarch caterpillars of all sizes munching away at the plants, which are starting to look bedraggled, but will come back strong in the spring. Blooms are fading followed by the long seedpods.
Friends of Lost Creek Forest volunteers maintain the garden with the support of the City. Plants are over 95% natives, as this is what supports pollinators, and all of biodiversity, the best. In the next few weeks, the garden will be in its glory with masses of swamp sunflowers, goldenrod, white bidens, dotted horsemint, scarlet sage, false dragonhead, pink thoroughwort and many others in full bloom. The recent heavy rains have knocked over many of the tallest plants, but they will bloom nonetheless. Everyone is encouraged to stop by anytime, all year long, to see the stages of the garden and its pollinators and other creatures.