Autumn Pollinators in Oklahoma
In my opinion, the best time to be in Oklahoma is late summer and fall. The huge number of bees and butterflies visiting our flowers provides endless enjoyment to pollinator watchers like my kids and I. This fall, I’ve spent my free time rearing and tagging monarchs and looking for nectar plants that monarchs prefer in the Sooner State.
This June we moved to a new home and quickly established a pollinator garden. In late August and September, the milkweeds in the new garden were already providing habitat for a few hundred monarch caterpillars. We know of at least 60 that successfully eclosed as adult monarchs. Monarchs aren’t picky about where they pupate – just about any horizontal surface that their larvae and pupae can hang from will do. We had a monarch emerge from a chrysalis attached to our shoe rack.
Fortunately for the pollinators, I had planted plenty of golden crownbeard (Verbesina encelioides), a native annual that might top the list of best plants for pollinators in this area. It blooms from late May until frost, and a huge diversity of pollinators love it. The bordered patch butterfly (Chlosyne lacinia, shown below), is a species of the southwestern U.S. that uses golden crownbeard as both its host plant and primary nectar source.
In my travels in northern Oklahoma, I was lucky enough to find some large patches of golden crownbeard in the landscape. One of the patches was located on a mound of dirt just a few feet from The Tumbleweed, the Stillwater honky-tonk where Garth Brooks performed before he was a household name. I took a brief video on my phone, where you can see lots of pollinators moving about. I estimated that this patch, roughly 25 feet in diameter, had dozens of monarchs, hundreds of other butterflies, and thousands of native bees. On some stems, every flower had a bee on it! When using a net to catch a monarch, I’d invariably capture multiple other pollinators.
According to monarch biologist Dr. Kristen Baum, monarch migration here used to peak at the very end of September (). However, it has peaked in mid-October the last few years. On October 9th, as part of her efforts to tag and release migrating monarchs, Kristen captured 200 monarchs in little over 3 hours! On October 14th, my son and I helped Kristen capture over 200 monarchs in less than 3 hours. The monarchs were so hungry for nectar, we captured most of them by hand as they fed! With many miles left to travel, we’re glad the abundance of nectar sources in our area provided them some fuel to help them survive their journey to central Mexico.
If you ever have the chance to visit the Southern Plains in fall, be sure to take it.
By Ray Moranz, Grazing Lands Pollinator Ecologist