Monika Maeckle is a Master Gardener in South Central Texas. She is also one of the most articulate and enthusiastic Monarch advocates on the web. Her website,TexasButterflyRanch.com, is an amazing mix of well-written articles and commentary. Posts centered on the butterflies at all stages of life, these range from scientific, to the arts, from news to moving recollections. Her photography is also brilliant. I have been a fan of her newsletter for sometime, it is always interesting, to the point, and very often worth passing along.
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It’s clear from your blog that environmental advocacy runs deep with you. Were there any moments that ignited this passion for the natural world and, more particularly butterflies?
Monika: Even when I was a kid, my favorite adventure was to come home from school and “go down to the creek.” My family always had a garden, and we lived in North Dallas where nature was easily accessible. This kind of experience, so important and formative in understanding our world, seems so hard to find these days and that troubles me. The first time I witnessed the roosting of Monarch butterflies on our family’s Llano River Ranch, I was permanently moved–hundreds of Monarch butterflies busting off the pecan trees like floating, flitting orange snow. As I read more about Monarchs and their life cycle and incorporated host and nectar plants into my gardening, it became impossible to resist their charms. Next thing you know I was raising caterpillars in the kitchen.
Is the Hill Country of Texas a special place for butterfly observers? What is special about it to you?
Monika: The Texas Hill Country is truly a special place with its karst riddled streams and rivers, junction of several landscapes, and central location in migratory flyways for birds and for butterflies. People think of Texas as a flat, dusty horizon, but the Hill Country blows that myth wide open. I love the intersection of all these geographic plates and the landscapes that spawns. More than 400 butterfly species have been identified in the Lone Star State.
The preservation of the Monarch Migration is an international concern. What other animals struggle due to migration across the US-Mexican border?
Monika: I’m not really well schooled enough in this topic to speak to it. I think it’s fair to say, though, from my completely citizen scientist point of view, that the world is changing, climate is changing, and with that, migratory patterns will also change. I am a pragmatist and accept that.
Monarchs seem to have the ability to captivate the young. In your efforts to educate about butterflies, are there any moments working with children that you have found particularly memorable?
Monika: I have had many great moments with children, but what has surprised me more are the moments with seniors. I have both my parents–aged 81 and 92–on this earth and often bring them caterpillars as pets. I’ve also taken pots of milkweed loaded with a Monarch caterpillar or two to senior centers and have so enjoyed watching the way the creatures seem to offer comfort and reassurance to the aging. When the caterpillars go chrysalis and later eclose to the butterfly stage and then take flight–it seems to be reassuring and life affirming in ways we don’t expect.
The Monarch has been struggling for some time, and there is a grass-roots movement to plant more milkweed to help the monarch. How can we plant our milkweed most effectively and is there anything else we can do to help the Monarch?
Monika: I encourage the planting of native milkweeds whenever possible, but Tropical milkweed is better than none. Some will disagree with me on that, but to me it’s a question of providing food or not. (See Texas Butterfly Ranch for more on this) Mixed in with milkweed, we should be offering a nectar feast of varied, preferably native or well-adapted flowering plants to keep the fuel available for butterflies, bees and other pollinators.
Photo Credits: The two fine images in this interview are courtesy of Monika Maeckle, and the work of Nicholas Rivard.