ALLENTON — Amidst all the chaos in the world, Ruth and Larry Macha have an oasis right outside their back door.
From about mid-August right through mid-October, the Machas enjoy the seemingly otherworldly visits of hundreds of Monarch butterflies.
Sure, they have plenty of Milkweed plants. But that’s not what the Monarchs are after. They’re drawn to the tiny white puffs of flowers that adorn the Water Snowball plants that Larry cultivates especially for them.
Monarchs adorn Water Snowball plants in Macha family yard.
A skilled gardener who knows his way around plants, Larry has cultivated and cared for dozens of Water Snowball plants over the past half-dozen years or so.
He was first introduced to the water-loving annual through his job at Bordine’s nursery. The Water Snowball was a mainstay in Bordine’s water garden. They were also a magnet for Monarchs.
During the growing season, Larry takes cuttings from a mature Water Snowball plant and roots them in water. From there, he transfers them into small sectional trays, much like those you’d find at any greenhouse. When the weather cools, he and Ruth bring the plants indoors and place them in a sunny window throughout the winter. As the cuttings grow, Larry increases the size of the pot. Their last stop is in a five gallon container.
When temperatures are warm and steady in the spring, they bring the Water Snowball plants out onto their deck, where they grow big and bushy.
When August rolls around, the Monarchs converge.
“You just have to see it to believe it,” Ruth says. “There are just hundreds of Monarchs on the plants.”
An amateur photographer, Ruth has captured the breathtaking sight on film. She’s even shot slow motion video of the Monarchs in flight.
At night, the Machas have spotted large groups of Monarchs huddled together, hanging off of leaves in nearby trees.
“We hear a lot about how the Monarchs are in trouble, but around here, they’re definitely not,” Ruth says.
The Water Snowball (Gymnocoronis spilanthoides) grows well both submerged in water or above water around a pond. Prevalent in Florida, the plant has glossy deep green leaves with clusters of small white flowers made up of tiny white filaments that bloom profusely summer through fall.
Monarchs are attracted to the fragrant snowball blossoms, and will cover the plants during their fall migration.
A mature Water Snowball plant will grow up to three feet tall and wide, branching out on the water surface. Water Snowball will grow in a wide range of conditions, from moist soil to using as a submerged plant.
To see video of the Monarchs in the Macha family yard, go to our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Tricitytimes/.