When is the last time you saw a monarch butterfly? Due to habitat loss and the widespread use of insecticides and herbicides, that orange and black butterfly that used to be everywhere is now hard to find. Do you realize some children have never had the joy of seeing a monarch butterfly?
The amazing part of this story is that we all have a way to help the North American monarch butterfly return home. The solution is simple and relatively inexpensive.
If you don’t have a back yard of your own, ask a friend, ask a neighbor or ask your apartment manager. Most will love the idea of saving the monarch, and who can object to a bit of free landscaping?
The life cycle of the monarch butterfly is nothing short of amazing. You may think that these brilliantly colored and oh-so-recognizable butterflies have a short life span, only 4 to 6 weeks, but the truth is that every fourth generation of monarch butterfly will migrate some 3,000 miles south to the warmth of Mexico and Southern California, living there for 6 to 9 months before migrating back north. But the numbers of monarch butterflies are on the decline.
Why Should You Care?
- Because they are an endangered species
- Because by feeding them, you attract other beneficial pollinators
- Because they help scientists monitor global warming and ecological health
- Because every child should be able to see and appreciate the monarch butterfly
- Because seeing a photo is absolutely nothing like meeting the real thing
- Because they are simply beautiful
Asclepias is the ONLY food Monarch Larvae and Caterpillars will eat
Female monarch butterflies will lay their eggs on other plants if they have no choice. You may have noticed them on the leaves of your Echinacea, Buddleia, Delphinium or Syringa(Lilac). However, that will have been a labor of love with no benefit; the monarch larvae and caterpillars must have milkweed to survive. It’s a fact, plain and simple.
This inbred instinct also has to do with the survival of the larvae and adult
Milkweed leaves contain a toxin that is not harmful to the life cycle of the monarch, but it makes the monarch taste incredibly nasty to all but a couple of predators. The black and orange coloration warns those hunters that the monarch is not a tasty morsel, enabling this delicate beauty to survive when many other species of insects fall prey to birds and other exterminators.
However, its ‘instinct’ is also leading to its demise. Milkweed, with its connotation of ‘weed’ and its prolific growth habit, is being systematically eradicated from farmers’ fields and North American back yards. The emergence of genetically modified (GMO) seeds, those which are immune to the most common herbicides, enables farmers to spray their fields so that weeds, including butterfly weed, are no longer a problem.
Additionally, the number of people growing milkweed in their yards is declining, even though it is becoming widely known that this easy-to-grow, fragrant, non-invasive wildflower is critical to the monarch butterfly’s survival.
Ways to Save the Monarch Butterfly
The easiest way to do your part is to plant Asclepias plants – LOTS of them:
- This perennial (in Zones 3 through 9) will come back every year
- It is available in colors from white to yellow to the traditional pink
- Milkweed can last forever; it can be dried for year-round enjoyment
- This wildflower is NOT invasive
- Milkweed tolerates salty environs well
- It is nicely fragrant and reblooms from early summer through fall
- Asclepias is adaptable to many soils and has average moisture requirements
- It will bloom best with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily
We would like to thank you, in advance, on behalf of monarch butterflies everywhere!