Thanksgiving in the North

This year we headed north for Thanksgiving and were greeted by snow and deer. As usual, I spend much of my time exploring nature while traveling.

The cold snap and snow motivated a squirrel to add leaves to its nest.

A few days later the snow melted and revealed Princess Pine in the woods. Princess Pine looks like a perfect little pine tree and is actually a club moss.

Lycopodium obscurum reproduces with spores and prefers acidic soils and shaded woodlands.

Milkweed was still sending off some seed “fairies”. The northern ones are much larger than the tropical Butterfly Weed I grow here.

Best of all I found some fossils.

We had to say goodbye to family and travel to the airport. As usual, we stopped at rest areas where the employees lovingly decorated their space to bring Christmas cheer to travelers. The elves were modified with tissue paper clothes and many wrapped gifts were under the tree.

A fireplace with a lace curtain repurposed for the mantle cover was created for Santa’s arrival.

The display was completed with paper and pencil to leave a note for Santa.

At the next stop, Mrs. Gingerbread was greeting everyone at the Ladies’ Room entrance, but Mr. Gingerbread was gone. Maybe he needed a bathroom break.

Soon it was time to fly back to the warm South and we took to the sky at the crack of dawn.

Vacation Time

It’s vacation time.

While on vacation, I am always checking out nature. Wildlife was abundant while visiting the mountains. A couple of frogs were hanging out at the pond.

Deer were waiting in the driveway.

And this mama bear had triplets. She has been instructing her cubs on garbage can raiding. (I did not take this photo)

A farm stand had a unique flower display.

I spied some brightly colored mushrooms in the woods.

These thistles were loaded with pollinators and all kinds of butterflies. The thistledown floated through the air for days.

Milkweed was in full bloom. Soon the Monarch Butterflies arrived and the next generation of caterpillars hatched.

One of many farm stands selling corn fresh from the field.

A dreaded Lantern Fly hitched a ride on our car. It seemed to be already wounded. Authorities advise people to squish them on sight, as they are very invasive and damage grape and stone fruit crops.

While visiting Brooklyn, we mastered the Bubbie cart in the very narrow grocery store aisles.

There is also plenty of wildlife in the city and I decided to “fake out” the Canada geese so they thought I had food. They all fell for it and came after me.

And yes, many trees grow in Brooklyn.

Come On Down

On a trip to the northeast, I stayed at a place with lots of Milkweed.  First, the swallowtails came.

Next the Monarchs visited.

Soon the Monarch caterpillars began to eat through the plants.

Mirror munching.

What next? All that is left is a stringy vein of a leaf.

I can count about 10 caterpillars on this Milkweed.  All the caterpillars received the coordinates to visit the Automatic Garden  during their migration, where the Tropical Butterfly weed is waiting.


Caterpillar Rescue

I found this baby Monarch caterpillar in my laundry room on a clothes basket.  I have no idea how it got there.  I quickly snapped a photo with my phone and returned the baby to a Milkweed plant.

Come on Down

During a recent trip to the northeast part of the country, I came across these Monarch Caterpillars eating a Milkweed plant. I would guess that this would be the generation to go to Mexico and the butterflies’ route could very well pass through The Automatic Garden.

So, come on down and stay for a spell.  We are ready and waiting for the Monarchs.

Monarch Caterpillars, Milkweed and WWII


There has been much concern about the dwindling  numbers of Monarch Butterflies.  An organization called Monarch Watch has been encouraging everyone to plant Milkweed, also know as Butterfly Weed.

I have been planting Butterfly Weed all over the yard.  Unfortunately, a beetle has shown up the last few years and has eaten almost all the plants I grew.  This year I am trying to collect the bugs daily for disposal, as any kind of spraying will also kill the Monarchs.

I was pleased to find many very fat and healthy Monarch Caterpillars on the Butterfly Weed.  This one is eyeing his competition.


My main purpose for planting Butterfly Weed is to feed caterpillars.  The plants tend to look pretty bad after awhile.  Interestingly, the plants contain a chemical called cardiac glycoside that cause birds to vomit.  By eating the leaves, the caterpillars are protected from birds.

I find that rabbits and deer also avoid the plant. The most common Butterfly Weed grown here is Asclepias tuberosa, which is tropical/Mexican Butterfly Weed.

The plants produce seed pods filled with seeds attached to fluffy floss that allows them to drift in the wind to a new location.

I recently found out that Milkweed floss had an important role in World War II.  School children from all over the country were sent out to collect the seed pods to make life vests for Navy sailors. Milkweed in the northern U.S. is much larger than the ones that grow in the South and were found growing in fields and along the roads.  The seeds were removed and the floss was used to stuff the vests.

I find it hard to imagine that these vest would stay afloat for long, but I guess that is what they had back then.  While researching, I also found an article with instructions for making a down-like coat using the Milkweed floss for the insulation.  As it turns out, this “weed” is not only necessary for Monarchs, but humans have also found uses for it.

Help the Monarchs…Plant Milkweed

The Monarch Butterfly is on the decline and may to added to the endangered species list.  Some of the reasons for their decline is deforestation of their winter home in Mexico, increased crop production and pesticide use throughout the continent.  But, there is also a lack of weeds, Milkweed that is.

These beautiful winged creatures make an amazing 3,000 mile trip from Canada to Mexico.  One individual will make the entire trip from Canada, but it takes up to four generations to return from Mexico.  They need Milkweed to lay their eggs on, as it is the Monarch caterpillars’ food. Wild flowers are also an important nectar source for the trip.

You can easily help the butterfly by planting more Milkweed, also called Butterfly Weed. Some areas are even giving out free seed or plants. Milkweed is easy to grow (it is not called weed for nothing).  Different varieties grow in different parts of the continent.  Find out what works for you area and also add some wildflowers.  Don’t give up if the Monarch don’t show up immediately or even this year, eventually they will find it.

A great documentary on the Monarch migration can be found online from the PBS show, Journey of the Butterflies.