Monday, January 22, 2018

Listen to the Sounds of Monarch Butterfly Wings in the Cerro Pelon Reserve in Mexico!


I just learned of a project that allows you to hear sounds in various locations around the world. Called Locus Sonus, it is a French-based research network that focuses on the relationship between sound and space. It had its beginnings in 2005, and works in cooperation with several research labs throughout the world, including the School of the Art Institute (SAIC) in Chicago.

While I don't entirely understand their goal or purpose, what I do know is that they set up listening devices using open mics in places in order to capture their soundscape. Mainly an artistic endeavor, it relies on technology and science to operate.

Why am I interested in this? Because one of the locations where a microphone is located is in the Cerro Pelon monarch butterfly sanctuary in Michoacán, Mexico. By tuning in to this particular channel, you can hear the sounds of monarch butterfly wings, birds chirping, and wind through the trees in the location where the monarch butterflies were first found in their wintering location in 1975.


Click on graphic to enlarge soundmap. To go to the site, click here.


The listening map is located here and you can find the Cerro Pelon mic in Mexico and click on it. You'll want to have your sound turned up to its maximum level in order to hear the low level sounds.

The listening equipment is solar powered, so there will be times when no sound is being transmitted (at night, for example, which will be indicated by the darkened areas on the map) and the volume may vary. It's very new, so there will be times when equipment adjustments are being made. During those times, the microphone may not appear on the map. Check back later. It will be worth it!


Taking it all in at Sierra Chincua sanctuary, March 3rd, 2017.


Having been in a couple of the monarch sanctuaries myself, I can confirm that yes, it's very subtle, very quiet, which is the beauty in it, especially when you're in its midst. Just as in the actual location, you will not hear loud anything streaming through the microphone and you might be underwhelmed by what you hear. But make no mistake, you can hear those delicate wing flutters.


When the sun is out, the monarchs can be seen fluttering about, like
these, in El Rosario sanctuary on March 2nd, 2017.


Because the monarchs are much more active on sunny days, this will affect what you hear when listening in. If it's cloudy or rainy, you won't hear the sounds of butterfly wings, because the monarchs will be clustered together on the trees with very few, if any, flying around. So if you don't hear them at first try, go back and give it a listen on different days at different times. I got lucky and heard the wing flutters the first time I tuned in. 🦋

Enjoy!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

How the Lifesaver Plant Got Its Name


Winter is a time when most of my houseplants get the most love they're ever going to get. That's because if I want to keep these plants - mostly tropicals - they have to live in the house with us during the winter and I generally pay more attention to those things that share my living space. We're in Zone 5b here and it gets way too cold for them to stay outside year round.

These begonias do well in the bright shade of the pergola, but need to
go inside for the winter.

One day, in the summer of 2016, I went nursery hopping with my good friend, Shelley, and while I showed some restraint as we visited various places, only buying what I needed for a photo shoot for a trade industry magazine article I was doing, I found something I couldn't live without. It only cost a few dollars, but we all know that when it comes to plants, cost often has little to do with our buying decisions.

I'd heard about the lifesaver plant many years ago and had seen photos of it - such a cactus-y looking thing with surreal candy blooms. I wondered if those flowers (I felt funny even calling them that) really looked as plasticky in real life.



But now here it was, right in front of me, and oh boy, yeah. It really did look like its photos. So I bought it. In the time since that day, it has taken turns growing in the house, in the conservatory, and outside during the summer. It seems to be a happy camper no matter where it is. You've got to love a plant like that.




Here are the growing stats:

Common name: Lifesaver plant
Botanical name: Huernia zebrina
Plant type: Succulent
Zone: 10
Light: Full sun
Water: Let dry thoroughly between watering, then soak. Tolerates neglectful watering.
Height: Under 6 inches 
Bloom time: Intermittent


FUN FACT: Huernia zebrina belongs to the same family as milkweed -  Apocynaceae. But no, monarch butterflies don't use it as a host plant. 😉




http://amzn.to/2EYfttk


For ideas on how to use houseplants that coordinate with your personal style and decor, see my first book, co-authored with Jenny Peterson: Indoor Plant Decor: The Design Stylebook For Houseplants. (2013, St. Lynn's Press)





Friday, January 19, 2018

Return to Mexico and the Monarchs


I haven't yet blogged in detail about my visit to the monarch sanctuaries in Mexico last March, and I promise I will, VERY soon. That was a trip I will never ever forget, and not just because of what I saw, but because of what I felt. Seldom in my life have I been moved to tears by the very sight of something so  magnificent.

Clusters of monarchs in the El Rosario sanctuary, on March 2, 2017


When I left Mexico, I knew I wanted to return sometime, but I didn't know if that would be a reality or not. And then I got a message a few days before Christmas from Jim West, owner of Craftours, the world's largest touring company in the craft industry. He asked me this:

"...we are working with the SAVE THE MONARCHS FOUNDATION and we are interested in knowing if you would like to be our special guest for a tour in Mexico when we actually go to a monarch sanctuary and see hundreds and thousands of these beautiful monarchs."

Well...ummm...let me think about that. FOR TWO SECONDS!

To make a long story short, yes, I will be returning to Mexico to see the monarchs, along with 18 other people. I will be their go-to person for questions and information about the monarchs. I'm really glad that I've been there before, because that gives me background experience along with the information I've learned over the years, in order to help make the trip more interesting and enjoyable.


The Sun Man in the Cosmovitral


I'll be there February 19-26 and will be visiting three sanctuaries this time. El Rosario and Sierra Chincua, which I visited last March, and a third, Piedra Herrada, which I've not yet seen. We'll be going to the Cosmovitral in Toluca, which I've also seen, and is one of the most unique botanical gardens in the world. But we'll be traveling in and out of Mexico City this time, so visiting that city will be a new experience for me.

With just one month to go before I head out, I'm starting to get pretty excited about it all, and I can't wait to share my enthusiasm with my fellow travelers. I'll be sure to keep you posted when I go, with photos and updates via Facebook.

You can read more about the trip here.


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