Milkweed and Monarchs


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Because I belong to the local chapter of the Native Plant Society, I notice native plants more, try to learn their names, and even find out if they possess medicinal uses.  We decided to adopt a theme for the year  2014, milkweeds.  Why milkweeds?  They are the primary food for monarch butterflies which are in extreme decline.  Why the decline?  Pesticide and herbicide use plus overwhelming habitat loss, especially along bar ditches and in the area of Mexico to which they migrate annually.  This past winter instead of hundreds of trees in Mexico covered with monarchs, there were only twelve.  Yes, only twelve.  Why do herbicides cause a problem??  When the butterfly larvae eat milkweed sprayed with herbicide, they ingest that herbicide toxin.

Monarchs are an ancient species.  They have been around for over 50 million years.  Monarchs are the only insect species to migrate 2500 miles annually.  Monarchs go through four generations per year.  The first three generations hatch and live up to six weeks.  The fourth continues to live for six or eight months.  They taste with their feet.  Monarchs have special meaning for Mexicans because they arrive in Mexico at the same time as the Day of the Dead.

In the Panhandle of Texas, four common milkweeds grow:  Asclepias tuberosa, Asclepias asperula, Asclepias latifolia, and Asclepias verticillata.  The name Asclepios is derived from the Greek word, Asklepios, the Greek god of medicine and healing.  I find only two of these here where I live, latifolia and asperula.

 

 

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The top photo and the one immediately above are of asperula, more commonly called antelope horns.  They are important hosts for butterflies.  When discussing butterflies of any species, it is important to note that butterflies require two types of plants, host and nectar.  This plant provides important food for larvae.

At least where I live, the more common–by that I mean it grows anywhere and everywhere, even in the driest caliche soil–is latifolia.  However, I have never seen a monarch on either the blossoms or the leaves.  When in full bloom, latifolia attracts giant (as in several inches long) black and orange wasps which seem incredibly non-agressive.

 

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This poor latifolia specimen barely hangs on next to the hydrant by the barn.

 

If you want to try growing milkweed yourself and you live in the Panhandle, seeds and plants can be purchased from Canyon Edge Plants and Panhandle Greenhouses.  Obtain free seeds from Livemonarch.com.  Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg, Texas, also sells seeds.  If you want butterflies, do not use pesticides and herbicides.  Contact me if you want me to publish the “Butterfly Attracting Plant List”.

 

 

 

 

The Land in Love with Guns


In the United States firearms kill approximately 15,000 individuals per year.  In Britain, Australia, and Canada, the average is 350 per year.  Spain’s rate is even lower.  In Germany, it is less than 800.  A young person here dies about every 4 ½ hours, shot dead.  The US murder rate is 19.5, nearly 20 times higher that the next 22 richest countries.  In the 23 richest countries combined, 80 percent of all gun related deaths are in the US; 87 percent of children killed are shot by guns here.  In the last 45 years, bullets killed more than one million people in the US.

Gun sales are big money.  More than a dozen hand guns are sold per minute.  One survey indicates that one out of every four US homes possess a gun; another survey says 39 percent.  However, most guns are owned by only a small proportion of the population, gun “collectors” who own an average of seven weapons per person.  Guns are cheap here and bullets even cheaper, about 50 cents each.  The Mexican government contends that our cheap guns help fuel the dreadful violence there which then overflows to here.

In spite of all this, the US murder rate is the lowest in more than 45 years.  The NRA claims more guns equal less violent crime.  The NRA contends that the lower crime rate is the result of less strict gun laws and more people owning guns.  Nevertheless, mass murder occurs on a regular basis.  We mourn, we lament, but nothing changes.

Eventually, another mass murder occurs and the cycle repeats itself.  Why?  Who or what is responsible?  What can be done?  Will more restrictive gun laws help or hinder?  Debates continue; opposing views and answers abound, but the cycle continues.  Will it ever change?

I wrote the above after the last mass murder event.  Nothing changed.  Now the conversation appears more strident, more active.  Apparently, the mass killing of children is more heinous, more scary than the mass murder of adults even if the adults are young.  The NRA advocates armed guards at schools.  How will that prevent mass killings at movie theaters, at malls, at churches, on the street, e.g. the three murders this week in Pennsylvania?

Australia was another country in love with guns, but after a mass killing there, they changed their collective mind.  They enacted strict gun control laws for assault weapons and ammunition.  Could that work here?  I think not.  This is a country in love with guns because the right to own a gun symbolizes  what is perceived as individual rights.  This is a country where personal liberty remains far more important than community safety and social justice.  Until that changes, mass murders will continue.