The weather in April was unpredictable as usual. Rain and some sun forces the plants to begin photosynthesizing, seeds shed their coats and sprout, and trees begin to leaf out. If you’re really lucky and thought ahead, the bulbs you planted in the ground last fall provide some welcome color to the slowly changing landscape.
May ushers in some more warmth, longer days, fruit tree blossoms bursting with the flowers and the promise of a sweet harvest, and the return of migratory birds. I am a person always in tune to the phenological signs of our seasons. Over the years, I’ve learned to look for the signs that signal new life, returning life, and the vibrancy of color that brightens our world. This year I got to notice it even more. Two weekends ago, I was in the newly greening woods foraging for mushrooms and other edibles. My drive to reach the Boscobel Bluff State Natural Area, and hour and a half from where I live, was a reminder of how beautiful the state of Wisconsin truly is. Last week, I had another early Saturday morning drive to participate in a migratory bird walk. Did you know that we live in an area that is a major flyway for migratory birds? Birds, such as warblers, vireos, bluejays, towhee, bobolinks, grosbeaks, tanagers, orioles, and others, fly back to our area and beyond to their spring and summer breeding grounds. It was my first birding expedition! I heard many but did not see them well. So, I am left with no choice but to try again! I do not think I’ll ever become a birder but I would like to be better at spotting them.
As per usual, I was more interested in the plants that these expeditions included. I am a plant person, and always have been. Plants and Butterflies, this is an evolutionary relationship which I understand.
Each year, since 2006, I have anxiously awaited the germination of milkweed in my yard. Now that I have three patches of different types to monitor, I have to make the rounds. Finally, after a couple days of warmer weather this week I was rewarded with the germination of my swamp milkweed on May 16th. This only means one thing – the monarchs are not far behind! I am still waiting for my common milkweed and rose milkweed to sprout, but I am sure there will be signs soon. I will notice the mulch being pushed aside by the tips of milkweed stems and leaves. My eyes will focus in on the patch of disturbed mulch and I there it will be – sprouts of milkweed, reaching into the air!
I even started milkweed seeds this year to add two more native varieties to my gardens – whorled milkweed, and short, green milkweed. The seedlings are spindly, but I will set them in the garden anyway, once it has been consistently warm. I know from experience that milkweed is sometimes hard to grow. One needs to have patience. Milkweed sustains the life cycle of the Monarch Butterfly. It is the plant the adult female lays her eggs upon, and the leaves are the only food upon which the caterpillar feeds. Without milkweed, there are no monarchs. I will be happy to welcome them back to my yard based habitat this summer, just as I have for the last 16 years in Wisconsin.
The significant sign of spring I found after a couple days of warmth this week was the eruption of my Wild Blue Lupine plants. I had been watching for these, as I planted almost an entire tray (38 plants) of them in my yard last spring. The Wild Blue Lupine has a role similar to Milkweed in that it is the sustaining plant of the Karner Blue Butterfly. We live just outside of the range for this small blue-gray butterfly that has a wonderfully significant history of successful conservation in our state. Although I have never seen the butterfly, I know the Wild Blue Lupine plant is needed, much as the milkweed is needed, in that it is the only plant the caterpillar stage of Karner Blue Butterfly will feed upon.
On Tuesday, I saw that one plant had germinated. By Thursday, after two days near 80 degrees, over a dozen plants had visibly germinated and were growing above the ground.
All it took for my long awaited signs of spring were a couple of warm days! Now, I’m looking forward to many more, with each day adding color, motion, and beauty to my yard.