Tom's Blog

Friday, September 28, 2018

New England asters and Monarch butterflies

This is the time of year when the last brood of Monarch butterflies is stoking up for their long journey to Mexico. Asters and goldenrods are the principal nectar sources, but by now most of them have stopped flowering. Fortunately, New England aster is still flowering and this is what the Monarchs are using. Often considered a weed by purists, it has the good graces to hang on longer than anything else.

A few years ago at Pleasant Valley Conservancy a butterfly watcher about this time of year counted 43 Monarchs on a single NE aster plant.

Although both of the above photos are from restored savannas, you can find New England aster as a volunteer in old fields and roadsides as well. I've been watching one of my neighbor's fields since it was last cropped four years ago and have been fascinated at how quickly "weedy" prairie species from PVC have moved in.

Last year it was old field thistle that had moved in. See this link.

This year it is New England aster, as the photo below shows.

New England aster growing in an old field adjacent to PVC that is gradually being colonized. Two plants of old field thistle can be seen in the background. The seed source is our East Basin prairie which is about 100 feet away. This field has been fallow for only four years. The small white flowers are probably frost aster. The goldenrod is (predictably) Canadense.


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