On the gift of sabbatical – A view from final days studying monarchs and milkweeds in Mexico (Part V)

Sabbatical is one of those remarkable gifts of the academy. At Cornell University, after 12 semesters of service on campus, one can apply for 1-2 semesters off campus, free from most administrative and teaching duties to focus on scholarship.  This year has been my third sabbatical, and every one seems better than the last.  I was unquestionably able to commune with my study organisms as I never have before (see my previous post, M&M in Mexico Part IV). I learned more about conservation in Mexico and field work in at high elevation than I could have ever learned from the literature.  Yes, of course, I wrote a couple of scientific studies and caught up on all sort of backlogged work.  But, much more importantly, I planned my days on the spot, behaving like a graduate student again after many years.  Considering both carefully and whimsically what I wanted to do. There have been many rewards, not the least of which was spending an intensely close year with my family. Being an academic is a special privilege, as we are entrusted to study, investigate, and create knowledge in addition to being part of the higher education of the next generation.  Sabbatical is one of the treats of the job and I will forever cherish this last year.  In addition to all sorts of new scholarship, I return to Ithaca (after a final month of travel, to Madagascar!) refreshed and ready to contribute to our communal enterprise at Cornell. Below are the last bits of Monarchs and Milkweed from Mexico.

On our way to 7 days of hiking in the Barancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon): Anna, me, Jasper, and Jennifer
The caves in Mitla, Oaxaca. Where some of the first agricultural people lived n the Americas (10,000 years ago), and where seeds of domesticated squash and corn were recovered from that era.
a senec tiedup
A beloved (to me!) dwarf milkweed, Asclepias senecionifolia, with a tied up fruit to prevent seed dispersal.
Weedy Asclepias glaucescens, found throughout the low elevations around Oaxaca city (5000 ft above sea level)… as we leave here in May, most flowering is done and plants are setting seed.
aszan A contrayerba
But the May rains have induced a new flora emerging from dormancy, including several Asclepias milkweeds and milk vines. On a single hike in San Pablo Etla I fine five Asclepias spp. and 4 vines. here is A. contrayerba. Special thanks to Mark Fishbein for helping with species identifications here and below.
aszanp A contrayerba
Too bad I will miss this plant’s flowers. Spiky trichomes and full of latex, I am sure monarchs will be feasting on A. contrayerba soon. This used to be classified as A. jaliscana, but is a separate (more widespread) species.  
box red morph1
At higher elevation in the hills above San Pablo Etla are shade tolerant milkweeds growing in the oak-pine forest.  He is A. melanthaEarlier I found a specimen of A. melantha uncharacteristically flowering in January.
box red morph2
Asclepias melantha, making buds.
box red morph3
A leaf miner on A. melantha.  Likely in the genus Liriomyza, but also likely a new species and not L. asclepiadis.
btall morph
A taller lankier milkweed, growing in the same vicinity as A. melantha. Not sure if this will turn into A. melantha or something else?
btall morph1
Mark Fishbein says possibly A. auriculata or A. similis (or also A. melantha).
The milk vines have burst. Here is Matelea chrysantha.
Another milk vine, unopened bud of Dictyanthus sp. Thanks Mark.
bvine2 Matelea gonoloboides
And a third species of Matelea in flower on this single hike in San Pablo Etla!  Here is M. gonoloboides.
bvine1 Gonolobus uniflorus
Back at high elevation, another milk vine, Gonolobus uniflorus, looking like a ninja star.
Back in the city, I found this Ziziotes milkweed, Asclepias oenotheroides in beautiful bloom.  The gardeners pulled it a week later ;-(
But the leaf miners had already left.
On a trip to the high hills above Oaxaca, between Latuvi and Lachatao, was this pine leaf milkweed, Asclepias linaria.  At the southern edge of its range… from here all the way into Arizona.
The common name makes sense.  And this is among the most toxic milkweeds, the one that made my lips go numb.
lin funastrum
On a trip earlier in the sabbatical, I spotted this milk vine., Funastrum sp., in El Fuerte, Sinaloa. Funastrum latex smells oniony to my nose.
Back in Oaxaca, ever-present Aphis nerii.
I hadn’t seen many monarchs in March and April.  I was beginning to wonder if they were gone.  But just as I began to wonder this, I saw at least four flying around town, including one at my house and this one in a wet ditch on Asclepias curassavica.
z anurag in the field
It’s been real, thanks for reading. Next post will be from Madagascar.  Stem-succulent and toxic milkweeds that have been isolated from the rest of world for a million years: Pachypodium

z seminar

10 Replies to “On the gift of sabbatical – A view from final days studying monarchs and milkweeds in Mexico (Part V)”

  1. I am your fan!!! I am happy you enjoyed Mexico! You are and incredible scientist and naturalist. See you very soon!!!

    • I don’t think so, but I totally see where you are coming from in terms of shape and morphology. To my knowledge, neither Apocynum androsaemifolium or A. cannabinum get into Mexico. These were above 2000 meters elevation in a shady oak-pine forest above Oaxaca. Time will tell with their flowers 😉

  2. You’re an inspiration as a scientist but also as a blogger! One can easily feel the passion in your writing. All the best and thanks!

  3. Hi,
    I love growing all kinds of milkweeds! Right now i’m growing over 20 different asclepias species, such as A. Soloanoa, A. Hallii A. Labriformis, A. Cryptoceras. A. Ribera, A. Amplexicaulis, A. texana, erc…. I also love raising monarchs! I was wondering if you ever collect any asclepias species from Mexico? What are all the asclepias species you are growing?

  4. Dr Anurag Agrawal thank you for posting your observations from Mexico. We do not know enough about milkweeds much less from Mexico.
    I have been following Asclepias oenotheroides for some 5 years now in south Texas. We finally have a commercial seed producer Douglass King Seed Company located outside of Houston.
    If I can be of any help to your studies please do not hesitate in contacting me.
    Dr. Grant

    • One thing we do know about milkweed fir sure. With suitable percipitation and temperature on the eastern range there’s enough for the goal of 6 hectares overwintering. If weather cooperates again this year, you will find there’s enough native milkweed for a lot more than 6 hectares. It “naturally” propagates three ways. Take it to the bank 🤠😘🇺🇸

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