Gardens of the Cross Timbers: Monarchs on the move

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Contributing writer
Loving the Giant Monarch Caterpillar

The 6th annual Monarchs on the Mountain celebration took place Sept. 18 on Turkey Mountain in Tulsa. The Monarch was the star in various exhibit tents set up as a semi-circle in the clearing, including Wild Things Nursery (with Marilyn Stewart watering her plants in the heat) and the Tulsa Audubon Society. A set of butterfly wings staked in the ground waited for anyone to stand between them for a picture. Nature’s angel wings! Young kids were awestruck seeing the giant Monarch caterpillar. The festival, plant sale, six pollinator gardens and planting pollinator-friendly greenery focused on the plight and flight of the Monarch.

As temperatures climbed, we embarked upon an adventure to see the six gardens. First was Jenks Audubon Society’s Flycatcher Trail. Extensively landscaped with native plants and a small waterfall, the site is a Monarch Waystation, Oklahoma Wildscapes Garden and National Wildlife Federation Bird Friendly Habitat. I was there in 2017 to watch Jamie Csizmadia of Olthia demonstrate the installation of a prairie garden. Today the outdoor classroom and demo garden team with life but few Monarchs. Too early.

Next was Crow Creek Meadow. The Monarch Waystation is part of the watershed area for Crow Creek, a three-mile stream flowing through midtown Tulsa. The water had been polluted with pesticides and pet waste. Today the tree lined creek has fortified walls. The meadow was planted in native plants donated by Blue Thumb. In August, sunfish and yellow bullhead catfish were discovered in the creek. Things are looking up, but no Monarchs here either. Lots of skippers though.

The Gathering Place had full parking lots, but people were sparse around the steaming wetland pond and garden. Probably in the air-conditioned Williams Lodge eating ice cream. Temp hovered at 95 degrees F. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) was in bloom. The fragrant pink flowers were working hard to attract Monarchs. I did count six butterflies.

Hicks Park Community Center, Creek Nation Council Oak Tree Park and Oxley Nature Center were to be seen later. Too hot. Lunch was cheeseburgers in a cool house with Tulsa Golden Hurricane versus Ohio State Buckeyes on TV. (Ohio State 41- Tulsa 20).

Monarchs are fluttering through the area. The butterflies not only time their migration with the angle of the sun, but draft cold fronts as weather shifts into autumn mode. If warm, Monarchs may hole up in some places for quite a while until the weather changes. I hope they’re prepared for dry terrain when coming through central Oklahoma.

We took advantage of the slightly cooler weather to visit the OKC State Fair. The Sky Eye Ferris Wheel was pulsing in colors of the rainbow. “Back 2 Fun in ’21.” The carnival and rides were fewer in number and spaced further apart. The food vendors were doing a brisk business. The caveman turkey leg, advertised to have nearly a pound of bacon wrapped around a turkey leg, cost a breathtaking $16. We found a plain Jane turkey leg for $13 to go with our $4 ear of roasted corn on the cob. The new Cheese curd tacos were $12 each. Took a pass on the bug pizza that offered toppings which included a choice of scorpions, meal worms or crunchy crickets. Also admired but slowly walked past the rattlesnake sausage corn dog. What does rattlesnake taste like? I checked online and observations from rattlesnake afficionados: flavor between frog legs and turtle; when fried, tastes like a sinewy half-starved tilapia; gamey; chewy; a lot like alligator. What do people eat out there?

Many buildings in the OKC Fairgrounds held an array of interesting things: new cars and trucks, national and local vendors, 4-H and FFA exhibits, table decorating contest, photos, pickle ball, table tennis, antiques, etc. The canned and baked goods filled rooms with goodness. On-going cooking competitions were held every day.

Oscar at the OKC State Fair

I spotted Oscar the Grouch sitting in his trash can. Remember Oscar? He won the champion rosette in the Pottawatomie Country Free Fair Decorated Pumpkin, Gourd and Watermelon category. Oscar was with his fellow melons inside a row of lattice booths. He won third place. We knew he could do it. Congratulations Oscar.

Just outside the AGtropolis doors in the Oklahoma Expo Hall were the championship pumpkins in the Giant Pumpkin Contest sponsored by the Oklahoma Fruit and Veggie Association. The large horizontal greenish orange giant looked like a bloated overgrown zucchini squash and weighed 562 pounds for the win. The second largest pumpkin, more typical in shape but bright yellow, weighed in at 322 pounds. That’s a lot of pumpkin. Although the butterfly exhibit was not present in the AGtropolis, the goats, chickens, bees, barnyard birthing center and children’s market were thriving.

Gigantic Pumpkins

The Silver Dollar Concessions were back, along with the usual long line of people waiting to buy cinnamon rolls. Helmut’s Strudel was tucked inside the Centennial Building. All this time I though Helmut’s was local. Turns out the Austrian Master Pastry Chef Helmut Moelk began his business in Cleveland, Ohio. Now based in New York, pastries have been sold directly to the consumer at fairs and festivals since 1976. Helmut strudels were first sold at the OKC State Fair in 1977. The hot fresh pastries have become a fair mainstay each year.

In true fair tradition, the guy in the food truck whirled his wand around the spun sugar basin and filled plastic sacks with multi-colored cotton candy. Another person was busy at the popcorn machine. Candy and caramel apples sat in the front window. This was the place to buy fruit.

The lone red wasp is back. She left when the weather cooled, but now returns every afternoon, aggressively defending her pole by the front door. I was pinged on my head, but she couldn’t get through my hair. When or if it gets colder, she’ll be gone. Wildlife that committed is to be respected, not killed. Each day she gets a little bit of watermelon. We’re using the side door.

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.