Monarchs in the garden in September

Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) in the garden in September.

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My summer is complete–with 4 official days of summer left. 2 monarch butterflies visited the garden yesterday. They were mostly interested in the verbena. What a great butterfly plant. What great butterflies. The monarchs are migrants, young and healthy and hopefully ready for a long and successful journey.

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Checking my goto butterfly guide, the NABA-North Jersey Butterfly Club website, I find that monarchs are nonresidents of New Jersey, but common and widespread immigrants. Surprisingly, they sometimes pass through North Jersey as late as November 23. Wow. That’s pushing the season, it seems to me.

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As we all know, monarch larval food plants are milkweeds, but monarchs are attracted to purple coneflowers, asters, and goldenrods for nectaring. And verbena. I have proof of that. Someday, I hope to take a photo of a monarch larva, or caterpillar. I must plant more milkweed next year.

In New Jersey, monarchs congregate around Cape May in the fall were they nectar on seaside goldenrod and garden flowers, and can be seen roosting in eastern red cedars.

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Eastern red cedars. A tree native to about half of the country. That is so cool–that monarchs roost on eastern red cedars. Just last week, after much research and agonizing, I bought and brought home a little eastern red cedar, a female with blue berries. We don’t even have it planted yet. Do you suppose the monarchs who visited yesterday may have been attracted to my garden because of that little eastern red cedar sitting in its pot waiting to be planted. I’ll never know, but I’m really happy that I bought it, now that I know that monarchs roost in it.

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Viceroy butterflies (Limenitis archippus) can be mistaken for monarchs. Viceroys are smaller in size and have a thin black band on the hindwings. I haven’t seen a viceroy that I know of. I would like to have photos for comparison. I didn’t get a good spread-out pose of the butterflies yesterday. In the best such photo I got, seen above, this butterfly does not have the thin black band of a viceroy. Viceroys are fairly common and widespread New Jersey residents. Still, I think this is a monarch because I don’t see the viceroy’s distinguishing black band on the hindwing.

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Good luck on your journey southward, monarch butterflies. I hope you find milkweed for larval food plants and garden flowers for nectaring on your journey, and an upsurge in numbers of your compatriots in Mexico.

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