Here I am, as promised, moving up the West Coast to the lovely town of Pacific Grove, next door to the more well-known Monterey, CA. Of course, the Native Gardener would end up in a town named “Butterfly Town”. This town is an overwintering site for the West Coast Monarchs, just like Pismo Beach. Unlike the Monarchs East of the Rockies, the West Coast Monarchs do not migrate to Mexico. Instead they stay on the West Coast taking refuge in tall trees on the Coast.
There are a number of these overwintering sites along Coastal California, all the way from Baja to Santa Cruz. I wondered how many of the orange Monarch beauties I would find here in Butterfly Town. By mid-March they should all have mated, and the females should have left in search of Milkweed to lay their eggs.
When I got into town mid-March, there were only roughly 1000 Monarchs left at the Monarch Sanctuary, mostly males trying to mate with the few females left. It was a sunny Spring day, as I walked to the Monarch Sanctuary. I knew I was on the right path because, as I was getting closer, I started to see Monarchs flitting about in the yards neighboring the Sanctuary.
It was delightful at the Sanctuary, everything so green! There were lots of flowers blooming in the grassy meadow, with tall Monterey Pine trees behind. Yes, the butterflies were there all right, swooping from tree branch to tree branch, chasing each other (courting?), buzzing my head, and resting on ice plant at my feet. They were so full of energy, soaking up the sun as it streamed into the garden. Benches were placed near the paths for weary monarch watchers to rest & recharge.
I spoke with the Sanctuary docent there about the native plantings. He told me there was no Milkweed planted at the Sanctuary, so that Monarchs would not be tricked into staying. They have a one-mile rule: No growing Milkweed within one-mile of a Monarch Sanctuary on the California coast. The Monarch females would have to make a trek inland for their Milkweed.
Next, I stopped in to visit the Monarch Museum. Yes, Butterfly Town has its own Monarch Museum! It is located in the Natural History Museum and has its own very comprehensive exhibit, where visitors can learn about the Monarch life cycles, as well as their unique West Coast migration. As of March 10th, docent Allison Watson had a Monarch count of 4,838. When I arrived, there were only roughly 1000 left.
I also walked through the Museum’s Native Plant Garden where I photographed the native plants that were blooming Mid-March. Below pictured: Echium candicans is one of the Monarchs’ favorites. Close vertical blooms offer a chance for the Monarchs to hold on while feeding.
While Milkweed was growing there in the Native Plant Garden, it was not blooming yet. Allison indicated that our native milkweed starts blooming in March and ends in September, going dormant just when the Monarchs should be resting in their overwintering spots. How clever nature is!
The Town of Pacific Grove loves their Monarchs and respects them. So much so, that in 1938 the city Council posted the “Butterfly Ordinance” imposing a $500 fine for anyone caught molesting Monarchs! This ordinance is prominently displayed in the Parks. Now that’s my kind of town! Folks here plant lots of purple & yellow blooming flowers to ensure the Monarchs have nectar during their stay are in Butterfly Town. Monarchs appear to like those colors.
Since 1939, Pacific Grove has held an annual Monarch Festival and Parade to celebrate the return of the Monarchs that overwinter in Pacific Grove’s Pine forests. Children dress up like Monarchs, complete with antennae, and march in the October Parade, celebrating the October return of the Monarchs to Butterfly Town. Children are taught at a very young age to respect the fragile yet amazingly resilient migrating monarchs.
In front of the Pacific Grove post office, stands a bronze statue of a boy & girl dressed for the Monarch parade. The Monarch is the City’s Official symbol, and the statue shows us that. But it is more. The statue is a thanks to the children for taking part in the Monarch Parade, and for their continued compassion which will determine the future survival of the Monarchs of Butterfly Town.
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