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Sure signs of fall: Budding mums, migrating butterflies

October 10, 2010
By SANDY MICKELSON, Messenger staff writer

A sure sign of fall.

Big mum plants are budding out, teasing owners with the possibility of a cushion of color. In this case, purple.

Ann Macken, who lives on D Street West in Dodge, has a mum plant that's several years old - old enough to be 42 inches tall and 118 inches in circumference - and has what she believes to be more than 1,000 buds. She even had her neighbor look at it to verify the number.

Man, when that thing blooms, the whole west side of town will carry a purple hue. Nature's playing color games this time of year, for sure.

In Duncombe, for instance, Nina Standley looked out her window a while back and saw her maple tree fluttering, but there was no wind. The tree had become the resting spot for migrating monarch butterflies.

"I thought, what the heck," she said. "There were like five big chunks of butterflies."

She said she was so excited, all she wanted to do was take pictures and she didn't have a camera.

"I jumped in the car and went clear to Webster to get a camera," she said. "I had to go on detour roads to get there. It took at least 45 minutes before I got ready, got to Webster City and back. I was so afraid they'd be gone before I got back."

They weren't. The Monarchs showed up on Sept. 28 and stayed overnight before flying away.

Monarchs migrate every year, and though the amount of miles vary, it's usually between 1,500 and 2,000 miles - from Maine to Mexico at the longest.

Experts said nobody really knows why monarchs are called monarchs. Some say they got the name because they are so large and majestic, but the name may have come from King William III, of England, who was called Prince William of Orange before he became king.

Prince William of Orange. Monarchs are orange. Still, that's just a theory.

Monarch butterflies are about 4 inches wide, including their wings, and weigh, on average, about a whisper. You've got to wonder, then, how something so small and so delicate can fly from Maine to Mexico or the Great Lakes to Mexico. That's more likely where Standley's monarchs came from on this annual fall migration.

It's not just a pack-up-and-go trip for the butterflies. Think of storms. Even wind would stop them. It's no wonder they've got to stop and rest.

Maybe 20 years ago now, one of the honey locust trees on my folks' farm was covered with monarchs. Until now I just figured it was a family outing and they picked that tree for a picnic. Guess not.

It's fun to know we're on a migration route. Gives me something to look forward to next year.

So long friends, until the next time when we're together.

Contact Sandy Mickelson at (515) 573-2141 or



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