Signs of Early Spring
Winter Aconite (Eranthus hymelis) is in full bloom. It is native to Europe, but it came along to this garden via a Red Trillium I transplanted from my old garden. A member of the buttercup family, its golden cups are the earliest perennial to bloom in our area, sometimes as early as late February and I have seen early bumble bees nectaring on them. Like all ephemerals, plant it under trees or shrubs where it receives full sun in the spring when it booms and shade from leaves in the summer when it goes underground to sleep until the following spring.
Lawns are greening up; green shoots of prairie and savanna sedges, various onions, and chives are emerging from the ground.
Geese and Sandhill Cranes flying north (reported by Karen).
The first robin, seen by my daughter, on Sunday.
And then, the most amazing event of all: Keri saw a butterfly! I saw the same species in early March several years ago and looked it up then. I found it was a Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) emerging from its winter hibernation. Amazingly, Mourning Cloaks hibernate all winter in our area as adults under tree bark or in debris in woodlands
Easy to identify, Mourning Cloak is a little smaller than a monarch with a 3-3 1/2” wingspan. Its black velvet wings are edged with a band of gold with iridescent blue spots just above the band. An inhabitant of woodland openings and edges, its favorite food is sap exuding from holes in trees that have been drilled by woodpeckers. It is also partial to rotting fruit and dung. The caterpillars feed on Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) and various elm, willow, birch, and nettles.
How are they able to hibernate all winter in this climate without freezing to death?
Doug Taron, in an article in the winter 2002 issue of Chicago Wilderness magazine, explains: “The cold itself does not kill the butterflies. While the formation of ice crystals in body tissue is deadly, Mourning Cloaks cope with this problem by secreting large amounts of natural antifreezes – such as sorbitol – into their bodies. These chemicals are produced only as the weather begins to cool,” He goes on to say: “The fact that Mourning Cloaks remain in a state of suspended animation for many months allows them to have greatly extended adult life spans. While a period of about two weeks is a typical life span for most adult butterflies, Mourning Cloak adults live for 10-11 months – the longest life span of any North American butterfly.”
And who is Doug Taron?
Dr. Taron has been the Curator of Biology at Chicago Academy of Sciences’ Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum since the museum’s opening in 1999. Among other things, he manages the 2,700 square-foot Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, the only permanent year-round exhibit of live butterflies in Illinois, and its 1,000 butterflies. Chicago Wilderness, Winter, 2002
My Illinois State Representative from District 31, which takes in most of Elgin, Anna Moeller, is sponsoring a bill to make Milkweed our State Flower. As you know, Monarch Butterflies feed exclusively on Milkweed, but modern ways of farming has killed milkweed that used to thrive on the edges of farmer’s fields. Making Milkweed our state flower will call attention to the situation and encourage us all to plant milkweed in our home gardens, school gardens, and church gardens.