This week at the Arboretum: Monarchs, milkweed, and native trees

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, May 22, 2019

By Patricia R. Drackett
Director, The Crosby Arboretum, Mississippi State University
Assistant Extension Professor of Landscape Architecture

In late April, this column mentioned that we were observing many monarch caterpillars in the Arboretum’s pollinator garden, where they were munching happily on swamp milkweed. But where they go is often a mystery. You would think these caterpillars would choose to construct their chrysalises close by the milkweed they have been chowing down on, and that you would find these exquisite pale green structures everywhere, but when the fat little cats have finished eating, they sure seem to high-tail it to some very secret hideaways.

One of these tubby little caterpillars waddled all the way from the pollinator garden over to our greenhouse area. Here, it crawled up the leg of an old trail sign, and in an amazing process that lasts on average about six minutes, formed a smooth chrysalis around its body and embarked upon the two-week long process of transforming into a monarch butterfly.

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Right before the butterfly leaves its chrysalis, the walls of the structure will begin to lose the green coloration, and eventually turn clear enough to see the orange and black wings. Soon, the casing will split open, and the butterfly emerges. After spending several hours drying its wings, the butterfly will fly away to begin its search for blooming plants containing nectar, and the chance to enjoy its first of many meals. That is, if it doesn’t become a meal for another critter!

Watching the emerging of a monarch butterfly is a fascinating experience. But just because you know the location of a chrysalis doesn’t guarantee you will catch the butterfly at this exact moment.

However, the butterfly shown in the photo next to the husk of its chrysalis was the one pointed out by our new summer intern, Danielle Leclercq, a Mississippi State University architectural student who is from Picayune. As we passed the greenhouse on her first day of work last week, she casually pointed it out. What a wonderful discovery!

Would you like to install more plant species to attract local wildlife to your yard? Download a comprehensive guide called “Establishing a Backyard Wildlife Habitat” (Extension Publication 2402) from the MSU Extension Service website at  The document contains many lists of plants, both native and ornamental, to draw birds, hummingbirds, butterflies, and more to your garden.

Do you have young children who would like to learn about Native Mississippi Trees? A children’s program on this topic will be held Friday, May 24 from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. that will acquaint them with some common species found in our area. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Members’ children $4; non-members’ children $6; no charge for adults. Reservations are requested.

For more information on our native tree species, visit the MSU Extension website and search for Publication 2330, Native Trees for Mississippi Landscapes.

On Saturday, May 25, enjoy “Monarchs, Milkweed and Nectar Plants for the Gulf Coast with

Pearl River County Master Gardener Amy Nichols. Learn about the monarch butterfly life cycle, migration, and plants that support both their larval (caterpillar) and adult stages. Members $3, non-members $5. Reservations requested. Mark your calendar!

Many plants that attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators can be found at our Pollinator Plant Sale on May 31 and June 1. We are excited about the plants we have been growing in the Arboretum greenhouse for this sale, thanks to assistance from the Pearl River County Master Gardeners and Crosby Arboretum volunteers. One outstanding plant is Salvia coccinea, a red-blooming native sage, which is very easy to care for and is attractive to hummingbirds. We will also have native swamp milkweed for sale. Currently, we have swamp milkweed seed available in the Arboretum gift shop.

Mark your calendar! You are invited to a free community event on Saturday, June 8 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m., our very first open mic event, featuring local talent playing live music in 15-minute time slots. Come see who has dusted off that old guitar in their closet! Bring your friends and family to join us after dinner, to enjoy some delicious baked goods, coffee and tea, and great local talent. This is also an excellent opportunity to experience the lovely Pinecote Pavilion illuminated at night.

Please call the Crosby Arboretum office at 601-799-2311 to reserve your seat in the audience, or to sign up for programs. The Crosby Arboretum is located at 370 Ridge Road in Picayune, at I-59 Exit 4, and open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 to 4:30. Leashed pets are welcome.