The Holocene and Monarch Butterflies

February 26, 2014


I have been working on several pieces for an exhibit on extinction. The exhibit is one of many that will be happening throughout this year to mark the 100 year anniversary of the death of the very last Passenger Pigeon. "Martha" died in captivity in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. It's difficult to imagine that a species that once numbered in the millions was reduced to a single bird over the course of a couple of centuries, and yet, here we are...Some scientists are proposing that we are living in the age of the Sixth Extinction or the Holocene. And unlike previous waves of mass extinctions on earth, this one is driven by humans. Heavy stuff for a Wednesday, I know, or any day for that matter.  

Monarch Butterfly numbers have been plummeting in recent years due to loss of habitat. I have recently become a member over at Monarch Watch and have registered our yard as Monarch Waystation Habitat. We have monarchs come to our yard every year, but yes, last year I noticed the low numbers. So I made the painting above trying to address some of the feelings associated with a biological loss of this sort. If you live in the Midwestern US or Canada, I urge you to plant some native flowers in your backyard. I'm not very optimistic these days about where this is all headed, but still choose to be hopeful that even little actions like this can help and that it is worth it. 

* 4/1/2014 update: This is now available as a print HERE

4 comments:

  1. I am scattering my comments about this painting around the web today. :) It is exquisite.

    I have a big garden. I have a wide variety of plants, many indigenous but not all. I must say that, over time, the harsh winters here help me to keep plants as native as possible as they are the ones which fare best. After reading your post on IG today, I went to the Montreal Botanical Garden's post about making a garden more butterfly friendly. They mentioned sun and lack of wind as being key as well as the choice of plants. The sunny spots in our garden are dwindling with time. We do have butterflies visit our garden but I am taking up your challenge to make the parts that get sun even more butterfly friendly. I'm not sure I'm up to including milkweed as there are warnings that it can be invasive but I'm sure I can squeeze in a few more other plants that will also be attractive. Thanks for being an ongoing moral compass for us and spokesperson for those who cannot speak for themselves.

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    1. Yes, sun and lack of wind are definitely important factors as well. We (currently) have a big open yard with plenty of sun, but if I keep planting things at this rate not sure how long that will last (!). I have common milkweed, and I can confirm that once established it can be quite aggressive. There may be other species of milkweed that are not as prone to invasiveness to look in to. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) might be a good option? It's really lovely. I have tried it a couple of times, but haven't had the greatest luck in getting it to establish itself. I must have it in the wrong place, because it just doesn't seem to want to overwinter. But the first plant I bought from a nursery had 2 monarch larvae on it!

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  2. I love this painting. I can relate to it on so many levels. Please offer it as a print in your shop. Please! Best wishes to you, and hoping to see monarchs...

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    1. Thanks, Else. I am considering offering it as a print edition, but at the very least, if that happens it will have to be well after the exhibit comes down. Best wishes to you as well, and yes, lets hope for more monarchs : )

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