Peanut fur: Or why I grow milkweed

This week, Nova Scotia garden blogger Jodi of bloomingwriter wrote about her experience freeing a hummingbird trapped in her barn. It reminded me of a similar thrill of mine.

One summer at our place on Ile d’Orléans, in the St. Lawrence River just outside Québec City, the (francophone) kids next door were collecting Monarch caterpillars to watch them pupate. (I have 35 mm slides of caterpillars shedding skins and turning into chrysalides that I really must scan.)

One day, while checking on the caterpillars in the garage, I discovered a hatched butterfly trying to escape through the closed window, becoming tangled in spider webs. I reached out to free it, and it clung to my hand as if it had known me forever. Fortunately, my camera was in the other hand. I captured the shot above before reaching the door. As soon as we were outside, it spread its wings and flew. I felt like a proud parent! Couldn’t wait to see the kids and tell my story.

Now, my husband and kids are fluently bilingual. I, on the other hand, speak French assez bien pour faire le marché (well enough to do the shopping). I won’t explain why here. Let me just say, my language ability has bearing on my story.

When I saw the neighbours, I rushed over, bubbling with excitement, and began my tale. The butterflies were trapped in the spider web, I said. Or, at least, I meant to say. What came out was not toile d’araignée, but poile d’arachide.

The butterflies were trapped in the peanut fur! did not cause quite the stir I’d intended. Except at my expense.

One chrysalis was now left in our adopted family. For all our waiting and watching, I hadn’t seen a butterfly hatch. Realizing that it was the warmth of the first sun that triggered hatching, for my last chance I got up before sunrise.

As the sun rose over the St. Lawrence, I sat with that last butterfly as it broke slowly but slowly from its shell, puffy with the effort of its own childbirth, and slowly unfurled its beautiful wings. It was, like all births, miraculous.

That’s why I allow milkweed (technically a noxious weed in Ontario) to spring up in my garden. Milkweed is the preferred grub for Monarch butterflies. I always inspect the undersides of the leaves for the tiny white eggs, like miniature grains of rice. The green-and-black striped caterpillars show up for lunch occasionally. Yet, they always seem to sneak off when it’s chrysalis time. I haven’t been able to relive my Québec experience.

However, you can be sure my family has never let me forget “peanut fur.”


  1. I always check for Monarch caterpillars when I see milkweed too, but I haven’t seen any in Toronto.

    When I was a kid, each summer we would keep one Monarch caterpillar in a jar, with fresh milkweed leaves, so that we could watch it pupate and emerge as a butterfly. I wish my son could have the same experience but so far, no luck.

  2. Rosemary, I have seen them from time to time, and we’re pretty urbanized around here. However, never before or since in quite the numbers as that summer in Quebec. I’ve planted two varieties of butterfly bush this spring, so with the milkweed and the same in my neighbour’s yard perhaps we’ll have some greater success.

    Incidentally, I did dredge up my 35mm slides, and will be taking them over to the camera department at Shopper’s Drug Mart to have them digitized. Once done, I’ll post a story on the blog. Not many people have the chance to see that process. Keep your eyes peeled (with apologies to our younger daughter, who hates that expression).

  3. One holding the butterfly and another shooting it….., two hands a butterfly and a camera.

    Such a nice gesture to save a trapped butterfly, and you narrate it well Helen….

    Have a nice day.

  4. Nice shot, good thing you had the camera in hand.

    You have to pardon my ‘French’. I only know some four letter words that I let slip when I get excited.

  5. Great post! Peanut Fur, hahaha. We recently had 3 butterflies hatch in our Lottie shed but they all died by the window trying to get out. We weren’t there at the time so I can’t feel too gulity and they were nasty Cabbage Whites not beautiful ones like yours so, sorry, but I’m not really heartbroken. I’m a bad person.

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