by OCMGA Master Gardener Holly Boettcher
Monarch Butterflies are probably the most recognized and beloved butterflies in North America. Did you know that Monarch Butterflies cannot survive without milkweed plants? That is because their caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed and no other plant will do. Monarchs have lost a significant amount of that critical host plant because of shifting land management practices, use of herbicides, and because of loss of habitat in both the United States and Mexico. Here are some simple steps that you can implement if you would like to take action.
Plant Native Milkweed!
Planting milkweed is one way that you can help not only the Monarch but other pollinators too! If you Google where to buy native milkweed seeds you will find numerous places to order and many are free. You can also purchase plants from an area garden center or our local chapter of Wild Ones during their spring native plant sale. You might contact a local landowner to find out if they are willing to allow you to dig up plants from their property. The plants will do best if you transplant them early in the season and be sure to dig deep to get as much aof their root system as possible.
Be sure to plant milkweed plants that are native to our area. Look for Common Milkweed, Swamp Milkweed, or Butterfly Milkweed. Avoid planting Tropical Milkweed because the wrong species of this plant has been found to increase odds of the Monarch becoming infected with a crippling parasite. This is most often occurring in warmer environments such as Texas and the Gulf Coast States but is worth a mention in case you are a visitor from the south reading this article! Beginning in the early spring, throughout the summer, and into the late fall, you can search for the Monarch anywhere you see milkweed plants in abundance.
Provide Nectar Plants
Monarchs also need nectar plants and will sip from many different flowers to nourish themselves throughout the season. Why not plant native perennials that bloom at various times from their arrival, breeding season, and until they migrate in the fall.
Some common plants that will provide nectar are: Columbine, Blue Sage, Spiderwort, Goldenrod, Penstemon, Little Bluestem, Wild Anemone, Pale Purple Coneflower, Joe Pye Weed, Poppy Mallow, Culvers Root, and Blood Root to name a few.
I recently learned that the Monarch Butterfly communicates with both colors and scents. And there are numerous opportunities to observe them when you consider the 4 stages of their life cycle which includes four generations: the egg, the caterpillar (larvae) the chrysalis or pupa, and the beautifully developed butterfly.
Take the time to look for them, preferably with your children or grandchildren. The giggles you share while watching a Monarch sip from a nectar plant, or while sitting under the summer sun watching a Monarch Caterpillar munch the leaf of a milkweed plant is a memory to be savored for a lifetime.
Holly is a regular contributor to Appleton Monthly magazine