Bound by Beauty connected recently with Jennifer Possley and Peter Vrotsos, both of whom are involved in Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden’s Connect to Protect Network, which seeks to protect the critically endangered pine rockland habitats of South Florida. We met them at Fairchild’s nursery on a day of threatening skies and downpours, to pick up Bound by Beauty’s five native pine rockland plants, which include host plants for butterflies, as well as plants that provide food for butterflies and other wildlife, and 10 pine rockland plants for the Miami Shores Community Church school’s community garden. Read more about this very important effort to save pine rockland species, and learn how you can become a member of the network and receive your own native plants here. We will be scheduling a planting at the school soon, so stay tuned!
Bound by Beauty teamed up with the AT&T Pioneers, the Girl Scouts of Troop 1305, members of the Miami Shores Community Church, and friends and neighbors in Miami Shores, to create a magical community butterfly habitat and the beginnings of a pine rockland, in an overlooked, grassy area of the church next to the school.
We began last Thursday, one of the hottest days of the year, by carving up the beds. This might sound simple and straightforward, but St. Augustine grass has a tenacious grip on the earth, and is loathe to let go. For those of us engaged in the fight against climate change, ripping out St. Augustine grass is a apt metaphor for the struggle to replace the unhealthy with the healthy, in order to heal our planet.
One after another, our weed wackers failed in their attempt to cut through the tough leaves and roots of the grass. James Ard, a friend of nature who lives up the street, showed up in the nick of time with his powerful gas-powered edger, which one of the Pioneers employed to good purpose, while the rest of us used hoes and rakes to remove the remnants of the grass, which we piled up in another bed where the pine rockland habitat will be created. We almost finished the job, but the extreme heat leading to tomato-red faces dictated our temporary withdrawal.
Saturday, the day dawned bright and sunny, but a nice breeze off Biscayne Bay, along with lemonade and snacks provided by the Girl Scouts, provided some comfort to those who returned to finish the job. After removing the last remnants of St. Augustine grass, the crew got to work smoothing out the butterfly meadow planting bed, while others got to work labeling each plant and wetting down the future pine rockland and covering it with a plastic tarp in order to solarize it over the next few weeks. The wet soil will conduct the heat of the sun and kill the grass and other weeds. The Girl Scouts covered the ungainly plastic-wrapped pile with gaily colored butterflies, caterpillars, and a sign indicating its future use.
When the butterfly meadow bed was raked smooth, Bound by Beauty placed the potted plants in their assigned location, educating those gathered on the purpose of each plant, while the Pioneers and other volunteers began digging holes and adding some homemade compost.
Then the leaves donated by numerous members of the community were added to the bed to the depth of a couple of inches, followed by one inch of natural eucalyptus mulch, to mollify those who don’t believe that leaves should be used as mulch ;-).
The final task was to thoroughly water the new plants, and to place a temporary fencing around the meadow to ensure it survives recess!
Here is a list of the plants that went into creating this butterfly meadow:
Many thanks to Pastor Meg Watson and the Miami Shores Community Church, the AT&T Pioneers, the Girl Scouts of Troop 1305 (and their mothers!), James Ard (who schlepped the plants up from Homestead and lent us his powerful edger in the nick of time), and members of the community who donated their time, their labor, their leaves, and their rocks!
Bound by Beauty had a wonderful time at the Unity Day Fair in Miami Shores. Our booth featured a Monarch tower bedecked with Monarch chrysalises, and we even watched a couple of caterpillars pupate, which is always a thrilling sight. Jill Leslie captured the remarkable process with her cell phone.
Bound by Beauty also had on hand a Pollinator Pledge, which a number of fair goers signed to protect our precious pollinators from the widespread use of pesticides. Those who signed got a butterfly named for them on our wall.
We offered a petition in support of a farmers’ market in Miami Shores, and another in support of a ban on pesticides in public spaces. There was also a signup sheet for neighbors who are interested in participating in the creation of a community butterfly/healing garden at the Miami Shores Community Church. Many thanks to all who signed!
Most of all, we enjoyed meeting our neighbors on a beautiful day in South Florida. Thank you Jen, Susan, Wendy, Jill, Doug, Roly, Ed, Salomon, Mike, Pete for setting up an awesome booth and being part of this lovely and meaningful day.
Bound by Beauty’s team is collaborating with Pastor Meg Watson and the Miami Shores Community Church to create a butterfly/healing garden that will be open to all members of the Miami Shores community, when school is not in session. The conceptual design involves three main areas: a butterfly meadow; a pine rockland; and a forest retreat. This will be a place for inspiration, healing, meditation, and prayer, while surrounded by the beauty of butterflies and a healthy natural environment. During the school day, the children will have a chance to explore the many aspects of this natural learning environment.
A butterfly’s life is full of dangers, from hungry predators to freezing temperatures. This video captures the two most fraught moments in the metamorphosis of a Monarch. The musical score for Metamorphosis was composed and performed by Geoffrey Lee.
In the foreground, a brand new Monarch butterfly has just outgrown the shell of the chrysalis, and has to learn to use its new, much longer, legs to cling to the slippery husk. The abdomen, swollen with waste fluid built up during the process of transformation from caterpillar to pupa to butterfly, makes the job of holding on even more challenging. If the butterfly were to lose its tentative grasp on the chrysalis, it would fall and quite likely not survive, as the fluid in the abdomen would have no way to run down the channels in the butterfly’s wings to lengthen them without the assistance of gravity.
Behind the emerging butterfly, is a caterpillar that has begun pupating after weaving a silk pad to which it can cling. As the pupa emerges, it shimmies the skin, feelers, eyes, mouth, and feet of the caterpillar upwards. The emerging pupa has to replace that last caterpillar leg, which is clinging to the silk pad, with its own cremaster. If it doesn’t attach itself before the caterpillar leg is shed, the pupa will fall and not survive. The wriggling at the end, is the pupa frantically pushing the microscopic bristles in the cremaster as much as possible into the silk pad before the last remnants of the caterpillar are shed.
Watching the metamorphosis of a Monarch is transformative. Such magic and mystery, in a highly efficient and economical process of Nature. Many thanks to Geoff Lee for composing music befitting the magic.
The beautiful Atala butterfly is a rare and threatened jewel of a butterfly species in South Florida and, if you have a garden, you can help make them a common sight once again. Keep reading to learn the simple steps you need to take to help in this effort.
To lure the adult butterflies, you will need to plant nectar plants. Atala butterflies prefer white nectar plants (you’ll find a partial list below in the postcard, and many more by scrolling down through this scholarly blog here.)
With nectar plants squared away, all that’s left is the coontie, the endangered host plant where the female Atala butterfly deposits her eggs so the caterpillars can eat the leaves. You can read more about its specifications here, and its interesting history, below. Expert opinions vary on how many coontie you need to plant to have a sustainable population of Atalas, but I would recommend you start with a minimum of four plants that are approximately two feet tall, as coontie grow and regenerate slowly.
Where to find them
You can locate these plants by searching this database of native nurseries, or you can look closer to home, as Howard Tonkin of Urban Habitat recently opened a native plant nursery at Miami Ironside. He sells coontie with caterpillars attached, but do be sure you will have enough extra coontie to ensure the caterpillars can eat their fill. Howard can also steer you toward other nectar plants for the Atala butterfly which he sells Saturday mornings at the Upper Eastside Farmers’ Market at the American Legion Park. Otherwise, take a photo of the postcard below, which you can keep on your smartphone to have handy whenever you happen to pass by a nursery.
A bit of history
Coontie is an ancient plant that survived the age of dinosaurs, but it almost proved to be no match for unthinking human beings. The name “coontie” comes from a Seminole phrase meaning white bread or white root. The Seminoles and other Native Americans in the area knew how to process the root to remove the neurotoxin, and early settlers followed their lead and began commercial production of the starchy residue which became known as Florida arrowroot. In fact, Florida arrowroot was the Miami River’s biggest industry for a time. However, the hurricane of 1926 put an end to the production of this starch when it wiped out the last arrowroot warehouse, and then the coontie itself was wiped out throughout the region because humans no longer found it useful. Luckily, a small colony survived the thoughtless destruction of its habitat and host plant, and the Atala butterfly and its host plant are being brought back from the brink. Please join us in this important and gratifying effort.
The playground was a dry and barren place, and Miami Shores Presbyterian Church Preschool Director Catherine Woods was determined to change that. She wanted her students to leave their classrooms and enter into a magical realm, where caterpillars turn into jewels that open to unleash nectar-sipping butterflies into the world. She knew that their experience in the natural world was at least as important as what they learned in the classroom. She applied for a butterfly garden grant and held her dream close to her heart. She won the grant and connected with Bound by Beauty.
Bound by Beauty designed the butterfly garden, and connected with a Boy Scout who was looking for an environmental project on which to show leadership in order to soar to the Eagle Scout rank. What better way to bring a butterfly garden to children than by putting a young man in charge?
Armando Espinosa, from Scout Troup 529, bought the plants on Bound by Beauty’s list (with some last-minute substitutions due to lack of availability which is, sadly, a not uncommon occurrence with native plants), soil and mulch, and showed up on planting day with a large troop of eager helpers, ranging in age from 10 to 60-something, directing the operation like a general overseeing his troops. Bound by Beauty volunteers, as well as teachers and administrators from the school, worked alongside. It was like an old-fashioned barn-raising, albeit with donuts and children and butterfly plants! As we were cleaning up, we all paused to watch a beautiful Gulf fritillary butterfly approach…..and lay an egg on a newly planted maypop passion vine, starting the cycle of wonder for the children to observe.
Bound by Beauty wants to thank Preschool Director Catherine Woods for understanding the importance of offering her young students a natural learning environment in which they will have many opportunities to observe the beauty of nature and the awesome wonder of the process of metamorphosis, from egg to caterpillar to pupa to butterfly. We also wish her and her students success in raising money and volunteers to create a larger outdoor learning environment. Thanks as well to Cindy McCoy, school board member, for connecting Bound by Beauty and the school.
Congratulations on the fine job that Scout Armando Espinosa did in providing leadership on this project. It was wonderful to have children see that young people can — and must — be leaders too! Thanks to Scott Davis, Miami Shores Director of Public Works and Scout Troop 529 leader, for making Armando’s participation possible.
And thanks to the many volunteers who gathered to bring the garden to life!
Several factors dictated Bound by Beauty’s design for this garden. First and foremost, there is no irrigation on the playground other than a hose, so plants must be drought-tolerant. Second, the planting area is in full sun for most of the year, except for when the sun hides behind the school building for a few winter months. The plant list includes the following Florida native nectar plants: fiddlewood; scorpion-tail; beach verbena; porter weed; seashore ageratum, yellowtop, and wild petunia. Non-native nectar plants include chaya, pineapple thistle, and tropical milkweed. Butterfly host plants include coontie; maypop and corky stem passion vines; blue plumbago; tropical milkweed; and bahama cassia (which proved difficult to locate and will be planted later).
Bound by Beauty wishes the children at the Miami Shores Presbyterian Church school many happy hours in their new butterfly garden!
Bound by Beauty’s roots extend north to Canada, where a Monarch butterfly is a precious jewel of nature:
I was asked to describe what the Monarch migration means to three generations of women in Canada for this delightful blog. I would not presume to speak for my daughter and my granddaughter; however, I am happy to share how I got into the nurturing of these beautiful creatures and what this means to me.
As I returned from a five year stay overseas, I found myself having to catch up with my daughter’s life. My month-long visits every year, couldn’t possibly disclose all the important changes in Gabrielle’s existence, mainly because, while I was away, she had had two children – boy and girl – and if that does not change a person’s mindset, I don’t know what does. In addition to having had two babies, Gabrielle, and family, had moved from the city of Toronto to a sub-rural area in Central Ontario and had developed an even stronger sense of responsibility vis-a-vis the planet and its dreadful current state. Ah, the importance of legacy!
So, upon my return, I was taught about all sorts of things, among them how many pollinators have become endangered; how the Monarch butterfly is an extraordinary pollinator, and how milkweed – a native wildflower of Ontario – had been almost eradicated because it is considered, by many, a ‘weed’. I also learned that the Monarch larvae only eats milkweed leaves before it turns into a chrysalis. It doesn’t take long to figure out Monarchs are very helpful to us, the human race, and that we had decided, for some silly notion, to get rid of the only food they eat in their larvae stage. Aside from the strain caused by humans, both milkweed and Monarchs are vulnerable to extreme temperatures, predators, parasites and diseases; so, as it is, only 10% of Monarch eggs and caterpillars survive and, in 2012-2013, the eastern Monarch butterfly population fell by 95% in Canada (read more about the threats facing Monarchs and their migration and how you can help in David Suzuki’s blog http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/science-matters/2016/04/got-milkweed-monarchs-still-need-your-help/). Therefore, it is better to nurture them protected and to release them once they have emerged from the pupa.
So the Monarch saga begins.
Around the time of our move back to Canada four years ago, Gabrielle discovered she had some milkweed in her property and began to cultivate it; in all truth, it only needs to be left alone and it’ll propagate.
Three summers ago, I decided to emulate my daughter and I brought a little shoot to our place in Port Hope, Puerto Esperanza, as I call it. My neighbors are not that happy about that but… It is only this year that I have had plants important enough for the Monarchs to grace them with some eggs. I have to say I was overjoyed when, while working in the garden, I saw a lovely Monarch kiss the back of a milkweed leaf and leave an egg. Of course, no chance to get the phone for a photograph, just enjoy the moment.
It is not all fun, though; raising Monarchs requires attention, time and a bit of work. It can, also, be very stressful. To have an egg go dry, to lose a caterpillar or to see a butterfly not to be successful in filling its wings and flying away are painful experiences. The first time I lost a caterpillar I did not sleep all night wondering what I had done wrong. A dear friend asked me if I really cared that much; yes, I did. The most traumatic experience proved to be the one where a Monarch completed its cycle and could not fly. Oh my, my grandson and I could not bear the sight, so went somewhere else. Gabrielle and Michael, my son-in-law, were right beside the little thing saying words of encouragement and brought it an Echinacea flower to eat, it was useless. Gabrielle waited by its side until it died. We were all so sad, just remembering brings tears to my eyes, how silly, eh?
Albeit, I have to concentrate on the positive. This summer, my first raising Monarchs, I had 50% success. If one considers the survival rate in the wild, I did very well. This means a lot, it is important to do things to keep nature from collapsing around us. However, I have to admit I had a very selfish reason to start this raising butterflies business.
You see, I am also all about legacy and I want a close relationship with my grandchildren while I am here; furthermore, I want them to remember me and to remember the values we shared, the things we did together. My love of plants and nature, in general, was instilled in me by my grandmother. We used to work together for hours in her garden. Uvelina was her name and I still feel her presence.
My kiddies, as I call them, nurture Monarchs in their own home and in their Port Hope home. When they are here, we work in the garden and look for Monarchs’ eggs; we clean the boxes of the ones we have; we feed the caterpillars fresh milkweed leaves and we observe the whole process of metamorphosis, from a tiny egg into a gorgeous Monarch. It is wonderful to see how each change brings about a sense of wonder, it is heartwarming to see them look after the critters, and to listen to their very accurate scientific explanations about the butterflies no matter what stage they are at. It is a joy to observe how much they, and their parents, care and to be part of it.
Bound by Beauty was created out of a desire to safeguard our water and food supplies for future generations in south Florida. Planting pollinator gardens helps protect our food supply by ensuring that butterflies and bees — which are responsible for around 90% of the food we eat — have a safe, chemical-free environment in which to thrive. Regarding our threatened water supply, the situation is growing more dire as the sea is rising through our porous limestone, and the human population in Florida is growing by leaps and bounds. We need to act.
We understand that green lawns are, to many Americans, the epitome of a neat and prosperous neighborhood, but we are working to change that perception through education and example, as our future — and particularly that of our children and grandchildren, depends on it. Why not join our movement to protect our food and water supply by carving out some of your lawn and replacing it with plants that are both beautiful and useful? To learn more about how to do that, click here.
On Saturday, November 19, Bound by Beauty will help plant a butterfly garden at a local preschool. There is no irrigation there, which doesn’t pose a major challenge as so many native nectar and butterfly host plants are very drought-tolerant once established. Among the drought-tolerant natives we will plant are Lantana depressa, Porter weed, Seashore ageratum, Beach verbena, wild petunia, and Privet senna. Non-natives include Chaya, or Mexican spinach, and Plumbago auricolata.
Read more about the threats to our precious aquifer here.
Bound by Beauty has friends throughout the world who recognize the vital need to appreciate and nurture the natural beauty of our planet. Mei-Mei Ellerman writes one such tale from Tuscany:
Strange noises from my glassed-in loggia pulled me out of a deep sleep. Normally, as I live in complete silence in the middle of the Tuscan countryside, only the wind, rain, or chirping of birds break the silence I deeply value. The former stone farmhouse my mother purchased in 1970, is over 650 years old. She chose it for its unique setting, simple beauty, and peacefulness. When I opened the creaking living room door, a flurry of wings and a blurred spot of color greeted my unfocused gaze. Somehow, during the night, a small bird had squeezed through a tiny aperture and become trapped. I cringed as it repeatedly flew straight into the glass panes, fluttered about perching for seconds on the windowsill or sought refuge on the old wooden beams high above my head. An impassioned photographer, I struggled with my initial instinct to open the outer door and the irresistible pull to dash inside for my camera. As the bright orange-throated creature had calmed down and was sitting quietly with its delicate talons clinging to the wooden sill, I slipped back into the house to grab my Nikon. Speaking in soothing tones to the little bird, I began to fire off shot after shot. After about 20 captures, it was time to release the wee fellow. Still talking to it, I snuck up behind and in one swift movement managed to gently cup its fragile body in my right hand. I briefly held it up to look into beady eyes, which betrayed no signs of panic though his heart was pulsating like 100 drums. Standing at the top of the stairs, I smiled as my new friend took flight, aiming for the highest branch of a great oak. The tiny patch of orange was barely visible, almost camouflaged by the protective mantle of autumn colors. I thought I heard a tiny chirp, but it could have been my imagination.
For those who want to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the Tuscan countryside, this beautiful farmhouse is also available to rent.