Permaculture Design Course

Permaculture Design Course
Madeira Island - Portugal
Permaculture is to live in harmony with nature providing for human needs and the needs of everything around us

The Monarch Butterfly in Europe

My story with 
The Monarch Butterfly
Danaus plexippus

Once uppon a time i was working on a permaculture school in Portugal . 
One of my goals was to develop a food forest garden on a very sterile and degraded  part of the farm.
As soon as the water systems started working, and water started to bring life back to the soil, plants started to grow again and i could sit and spent time observing the magic of natural succession taking the land into a new level of development and maturity.
There was a very interesting plant that started to grow on the land we were regenerating and that i had never seen before, it was so unique that i could not stop admiring its forms and characteristics.

Surprised and exited about my new achievements i reported to my contractor and the team i was working with.
One of the members was a biologist and instantly i was advised to destroy all of thoes plants since they were an invasive species.
Since very young age ive developed this reverence to nature and i would never destroy a plant without "talking" with it first. 
Nature has very misterious ways that transcend human understanding, and that is the ingredient that spices up my life.
For me there is nothing  like dressing my detective overwalls and go to find a relaxed place to have a nap and meditate and  then try tu use the childlike observation to understand what are the deepest plans of nature for the landscape.
As soil humidity started changing with our positive impact it was very clear that this plant wanted to take the area to a new stage, by creating shade, increasing organic material , protecting from wind and activating life cycles on its roots system.
There was no way i was gonna pull it out since it was performing many of the functions i had planned for that arid peace of land.
I was determined to fight for this plant and for natures intentions that were hand in hand with my intentions also.
The project manager was not very happy about my position, since one of the team members was actively promoting the destruction of this "ivasive" element.
I knew that many biologists that have been trained in universities develop this obsession about invasive species and declare war to watever is against the status quo of plants lists.
Despite being a scientist myself i personaly see that as a form of racism towards flora and i never beleived in giving passports to plants...i knew there was a connection everyone was missing, and that people that work with native plant conservation are usualy not aware of...that is called analog climates.
I could be wrong but nature is never wrong so my intention was to follow my intuition on that.
After long meetings and discussion i was able to make a proposal that got accepted by everyone..i asked for time to understand what were the intentions of that plant and the intention of nature...and i was gonna discover its name.
After some research on my plant database and encylopedia i discovered its name, it was a plant from South Africa called Gomphocarpus fruticosus  popular by the name of Asclepia fruticosa  and the most special thing was that it was part of an incredible group of plants, the milkweed or asclepias, a group of plants that the Monarch Butterfly uses to lay the eggs of its larvae.
I felt like i had discovered a pot of gold, there were so many social and ecological potential opening up by the presence of that plant.
And then...
...on a very happy day the monarch came and deposited its eggs on the host plant and an amazing larvae started devoring the plants.
A vision became very clear in my mind, i wanted to develop the first permaculture butterfly sanctuaries.
After that i started to put a lot of energy into discovering the story of this butterfly and why was a butterfly from Mexico eating a plant from south Africa in Portugal.
I couldnt beleive it...
Now years after this life changing experience i still have the same enthusiasm about reproducing this very good friends of mine and now on a brand new butterfly sanctuary..
This time it is on a much more apropriate climate, on Tenerife Island in Spain, at the
 Atlantis Food Forest Garden 
the new permaculture sanctuary for the biggest buterfly in europe and other lepidoptera reffugees.

Next you can see the research i did back then...hope you enjoy ;)

The monarch butterfly its a 250 million year old insect, that does one of the biggest migrations on this planet, using the wind to save energy and the wings only to change direction, it can fly more than 6000 km without stopping, looking for the next flower to rest and harvest some nectar.

Its migration starts in the autumn and goes from Canada, back to the place were their great grandparents undertook the trip the year before in the butterfly sanctuaries in Mexico.
This migration takes 3 generations to complete and then they will spent the winter there and wait for 5 months. Orientation sense is transmitted genetically so its easy for them to return to the place were their ancestors have hibernated.
Since some years ago probably due to climatic transformations in Mexico and also the destruction of habitat, this butterfly has been arriving to the south western part of europe, crossing the atlantic ocean in years of strong winds, they would all die after this long crossing without any younger generation due to the fact of not having a plant in the european continent to feed their offspring.

With the introduction in Europe of Asclépia , a plant from south Africa, used for the textile industry it became possible for the Monarch to feed their offspring, because they can only eat plants from the asclepiadaceae family.
Its a plant that adapted very well, despite being considered invasive by some biologists its not in any list of invasive plants.


This insect depends on this plant to survive, it represents an amazing combination of two exotic species one from America and the other one from Africa, that were able to connect in a sinergic relation in Europe. 
This butterfly is now considered the biggest butterfly in this continent and can only be seen in the coastal western regions.
The Monarch Butterfly, flies around edges and more wind protected areas with other insects and bees , the adults can live more than 10 months and it takes 28 days to go from egg to butterfly, the male is a bit bigger and the females only lay one egg per leaf so that there is not much competition because the caterpillar eats a lot of plant material, it eats leaves, stems, flowers and even its old skin and can even eat smaller caterpillar .
This insect doesnt have any predators, due to the fact that it eats a very toxic plant, factor that keeps other animals away .
In Portugal this butterflies reproduce in different times of the year with a peak during spring and autumn, and it also does no migration, processes very different than in the natural environment in Mexico.
There is a big mystery about the interactions of this animal in Portugal because during the summer time its only possible to detect males despite the fact that is possible to see many young butterflies.
Its important to have in mind the impact of such an exotic influence in the local ecosystem and the new connections it can create.

In the case of this interactions, there is no direct influence since the Monarch only eats asclepia and the plant its toxic for other insects, so there is no food competition, the main impact might be in the competition for pollen with other insects, the solution in this case is the introduction of large quantities of flower species, like budleia specially interesting for other butterflies like the local Callimorpha quadripunctaria.
This is the amazing story of an immigrant animal that weights less than one gram, with an incredible importance as pollination agent and as an amazing element in the ecological equilibrium of the atlantic landscape.
Its time for me to conclude that in Nature there are no passports, and that there is lo limit to imagination wen Gaia is working on its self regulating systems.

If you got inspired by this article dont forget to share it with your friends and keep up with our updates on the social networks.

Hasta luego amig@

1 comentário:

  1. Great story. I lived near Odiaxere (Cotifo) where this butterfly exists. Amazing that its there. thanks :)


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