Desert Society News

Spring 2016

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Dear Supporters:
Happy Spring! This is always an exciting time of year for us as we prepare for another Desert Centre season. We look forward to once again welcoming thousands of visitors and seeing many of our members and supporters at the Centre. It is also great to once again work with our wonderful group of Desert Centre volunteers, as well as invite new volunteers to join the team. If you are interested in getting involved, be sure to check out the 'For Volunteers' section of the newsletter. We have some special volunteer activities planned, including a Volunteer Open House on Sunday, April 24th.

In addition to volunteer events, we have a number of other exciting activities scheduled in the coming weeks (see the 'Events' section for details). On April 9th we will be holding our Annual General Meeting in conjunction with the film 'Sagebrush Sea'. On April 23rd and 24th we have a weekend of activities planned for the Season Opening of the Osoyoos Desert Centre. At the end of April - on Saturday, April 30th - we will be hosting a special Happy Hour Open House to celebrate the Desert Society's 25th Anniversary. Everyone welcome!

More Society events are planned for the coming months. To keep you updated with the latest news, we will now be sending newsletters out four times a year (January, April, July and October) rather than biannually. We look forward to continuing to share Society news and events, and to your continued involvement with the Desert Society. Thank you for your support!

Lee McFadyen
President, Osoyoos Desert Society  

Glorious Milkweed
By Lisa Scott
Okanagan and Similkameen Invasive Species Society
There are some native plants in our region that create confusion as to whether they are weeds or not. Some of this confusion is generated because the word 'weed' might be included in the name of a plant. Provinces and states can differ in their classification of plants, which can also cause uncertainty.
One such plant is showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa). This perennial is native to British Columbia and occurs in pastures and meadows, along creek banks, lake shores, ditches and roadsides. Regardless of specific location, it inhabits areas that remain moist through much of the summer.
Showy milkweed is widespread throughout the western states from Texas north to BC. It is designated a noxious species in parts of Montana and Wyoming, and can be toxic to sheep, cattle, horses and domestic fowl. It is most toxic during rapid growth, but retains its toxicity when dried in hay. Fast growth occurs when temperatures are warm and soil moisture is abundant.
At one time it was profiled in the BC Field Guide to Noxious Weeds due to its possible agricultural impacts, and many groups and individuals diligently pulled or dug out milkweed on their properties. I contacted the Ministry of Agriculture and encouraged its removal from the booklet, due to milkweed's importance to the monarch butterfly. Fortunately they agreed and removed it from future editions of the weed guide.
Showy Milkweed and Monarch Butterfly ~ Photo by Lisa Scott
Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed. As the larvae feed on the plants, they accumulate the poisons in the plant, to which they are immune. The poison, however, is distasteful to birds, which learn to avoid eating the monarch butterflies and larvae. Showy milkweed attracts butterflies, bees and other insects due to the intricate flower structure which is arranged to catch the attention of insects and then hold their feet in a way that they will pick up masses of pollen as they escape.
This attractive and fragrant plant starts blooming in June. The five petals are typically a deep pink to purple color, and are arranged in showy ball-like (umbrella) clusters at the top of the stem and in leaf axils, extending outward. The flowers produce greyish pod-like fruits that split open in the fall and scatter hundreds of seeds. Each seed is covered with hairy tufts that facilitate air-borne spread. Below ground, the plant has thick creeping rootstocks.
Milkweed grows from 40-120 cm tall and is softly greyish-hairy throughout. Leaves are opposite, oblong, with a pinkish midrib and conspicuous cross veins. The most notable characteristic of milkweed is the white sticky sap contained in the stem and leaves that gives the plant its name.
As a side note, sightings of the monarch butterfly are relatively rare in BC so reports are appreciated. Send sightings to the BC Butterfly Atlas, a community-based citizen science project aimed at increasing our knowledge of the status and distribution of butterflies in BC. They will want the date, name of observer, location and details of observation. Go to:
Help Wanted
The Desert Society has a variety of enjoyable and worthwhile volunteer opportunities. Joining our volunteer team is a great way to share your time and expertise, support the Society's efforts, and have fun. Opportunities include:
~ Front desk reception at the Desert Centre
~ Site maintenance
~ Habitat restoration and native landscaping
~ Event and fundraising support
~ Computer tech support
 For more information contact the Osoyoos Desert Society at or call 250-495-2470.

Volunteer Open House
Sunday, April 24
2:00 pm at the Osoyoos Desert Centre
Don't miss our Volunteer Open House for all Desert Society volunteers and anyone interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities with the Society. Enjoy some afternoon refreshments and a special guided tour along the boardwalk. Family and friends welcome!
Desert Centre Work Parties
Thursday, April 7 & Wednesday, April 13
9:00 am - noon at the Osoyoos Desert Centre
Join us for a morning work party to get the Desert Centre ready for Opening Day. Lend a hand tackling a variety of projects from maintenance to gardening. 
~ Indoor and outdoor jobs to choose from.
~ Refreshments provided.
~ Everyone welcome!
Restoration Work Parties
Tuesdays: April 19 & May 3, 10, 17, 24, 31
9:00 - 11:00 am at the Osoyoos Desert Centre
Join us for some native landscaping and habitat restoration projects at the Desert Centre.

~ Please bring your work gloves and a shovel.

~ Refreshments provided. 

~ Everyone welcome!


Saturday, April 9
2:30 - 4:30 pm ~ Watermark Beach Resort

'Sagebrush Sea' tracks the Greater Sage-Grouse and other wildlife through the seasons as they struggle to survive in a rugged and changing sagebrush habitat. After the film, attend the Desert Society's annual general meeting for an update on activities over the past year and upcoming plans.
Everyone welcome! 
Saturday, April 23
9:30 am - 4:30 pm at the Osoyoos Desert Centre

Live Burrowing Owl presentation at 10:00 am. 

Guided Tours at 11:00 am and 1:00 pm.
Photo Walk at 2:00 pm.

Free admission on Opening Day

Sunday, April 25
9:30 am - 4:30 pm at the Osoyoos Desert Centre

Guided Tours at 10:00 am, 11:00 am and 1:00 pm.
Volunteer Open House at 2:00 pm.
25% off Gift Shop Sale for members!

Saturday, April 30
4:30 - 7:30 pm at the Osoyoos Golf Club

Join us for a Happy Hour Open House to celebrate the Osoyoos Desert Society's 25th Anniversary. Enjoy snacks, a cash bar, a silent auction, and more. Have fun mingling and sharing memories, stories and photos from the Society's 25 year history.
Please RSVP to
Thursdays: June 30 & July 7, 14, 21, 28
7:30 - 9:00 pm at the Osoyoos Desert Centre

Experience the magic of the desert at night. Take a guided tour along the Desert Centre's 1.5 km boardwalk and get the inside scoop on our desert's "wild" night life. Learn fascinating facts about the many nocturnal animals that call this habitat home and what you can do to help protect them.
$10/person ~ Advance registration required

July 16 & 17
9:30 am - 2:30 pm at the Osoyoos Desert Centre

Enjoy or purchase original paintings, pottery, jewellery and photography by local artists. Treat yourself to a wine tasting and take a tour of Canada's only desert.
  Art Show included with Desert Centre admission. 
Click here for Desert Centre hours and admissions
Saturday, August 13
5:30 pm at the Osoyoos Desert Centre

Join us for our popular annual fundraiser held each summer under a starry desert sky. Enjoy an outdoor dinner, wine tasting stations, a guided sunset tour through the desert, live music, a silent auction and more! Proceeds support the Osoyoos Desert Society's habitat conservation, restoration and education efforts.
$70/person ~ Advance registration required
Check out the Desert Society's website at for more information about upcoming events.


Monarch Butterflies
By Dennis St. John
Around about the first week of June the first monarch butterflies arrive in the Okanagan and Simlkameen Valleys of British Columbia. They lay their eggs on showy milkweed, which is abundant in the South Okanagan and Lower Similkameen, and about a month later the summer generation emerges. This generation is thought to be sedentary. Adults mate and lay eggs here and give rise to a third generation which migrates south from roughly the middle of August into late September. The classic picture of monarch migration has populations east of the Rocky Mountains overwintering at sites in the trans-volcanic range lying just south of Mexico City, while those west of the Rockies overwinter in a series of coastal enclaves from just north of San Francisco, to Ensenada in Mexico's Baha Peninsula.  
Tagged Monarch Butterflies ~ Photo by Eva Antonijevic
 evidence, however, suggests that this is an oversimplified account and that our monarchs may ultimately be descendants of butterflies from either California or Mexico. The spring migrations north, and the south migrations in late summer and early fall, are quite different in more ways than their direction. Most south-going monarchs are not in reproductive condition. Successful migrants fly from their birthplace to their overwintering sites. They nectar on late blooming flowers along the way and build up fat reserves to carry them through their winter dormancy, the onset of the mating season, and the beginning of the spring migration north. The spring journey is a very different enterprise. It is a multi-generational trek. Mating takes place at or near the overwintering site, and dispersing females lay eggs on milkweed as they migrate. The monarchs that arrive in British Columbia in early June are the descendants of those who made the arduous southern odyssey the previous fall.
Although there are records of monarchs in high mountain passes, and soaring in thermals as our Sandhill Cranes do, they seem to follow river valleys and fly parallel to mountain ranges rather than crossing them. Exactly how they balance egg laying and the urge to migrate farther north is not well understood, but the presence of milkweed with fresh new growth is undoubtedly a factor. In this part of South Central BC, monarchs probably range as far north as Armstrong in the Okanagan, and west to Princeton in the Similkameen. Milkweed is mainly concentrated from Summerland to Osoyoos in the Okanagan, and from Hedley in the west to the United States border. It flourishes in disturbed bottom-lands, along fence lines and road cuts, and in grazed areas and waste spaces.
Two areas which seem to support the greatest concentration of monarchs are along the Oliver dikes, and along the Cawston dike where the Similkameen River turns to the west near Daly Drive. The latter site has a number of features which make it ideal habitat for monarchs. It is moderately treed, which provides a windbreak below the open canopy and shade in hot weather. Monarchs also use trees and tall shrubs as roosting sites during the night and when they couple during mating. The patchwork of tree cover also means that milkweed has a prolonged growth and blooming season because of variation in sunshine and shade. The river bank and irrigation on a nearby field ensure a supply of moist soil, which is used by monarchs and other butterflies to obtain minerals as well as water. Much of the monarch-rich zone bordering the Okanagan River channel has the same features, but optimal areas are more dispersed along the dike. The Cawston site has an additional factor which may induce a higher density of monarchs. The habitats immediately to the north are closed-in stands of coyote willow; a large cultivated field stretching east to Highway 3 lacks milkweed and is exposed to drying winds; and a steep barren hillside immediately to the west is a barrier to westerly dispersal. This combination of features may deter or delay monarchs from dispersing farther and result in more eggs being deposited on the milkweeds at the Cawston site.
If you want to attract monarchs to your garden, a small planting of milkweed will help. Monarchs have been in a severe decline in both eastern and western North America. They need all the help they can get. This spring they appear to have made a significant rebound. Let's give them a warm welcome back.

Your support makes a difference. Memberships and donations help fund the Desert Society's
habitat conservation, restoration and education efforts.

Membership is $25 per person per year.

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 The Osoyoos Desert Society