MONARCHS NEED MILKWEED!
Monarchs, as caterpillars, prefer the leaves of milkweed. Milkweed produces glycoside toxins to deter animals from eating them, monarch have evolved immunity to these toxins. When they feed, monarch caterpillars store up the toxins in their body, making them taste bad, this in turn deters their predators. The toxins remain in their system even after metamorphosis, protecting them as adult butterflies as well.
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) are two of the most common yet most important species for monarchs in the Northeast. These plants in the milkweed family are essential. And without these milkweed plants there can be no monarch butterflies, to my thoughts, in these parts.
FOUR PLANTS THAT ATTRACT MONARCH BUTTERFLIES
Goldenrod: Goldenrod, a native common hereabouts in the Berkshires with two species: Canada Goldenrod and Tall Goldenrod. Surprisingly enough, there are 23 species in Berkshire County, not all necessarily common. And not one of those species having heavy grains of pollen that cause the sneezing allergies, rather it’s the common ragweed providing dusty pollen and other plants.
Cosmos: These flowers are one of the easiest annuals to grow from seed, or ready grown at a nursery. The flowers are extremely drought- and heat-tolerant, but they will also bounce back after a light frost.
Lantana: These blooms have an instant source of nectar to offer to your foraging monarchs. Grow lantana in full sun to prevent problems with powdery mildew. Lantana grow best in well-drained soil. For the longest bloom time, choose sterile cultivars that don’t form berries.
Zinnia: Large butterflies like the monarch enjoy the zinnias that can fill up large areas of the butterfly garden. One packet of zinnia seeds yields the promise of much nectar for monarchs and many other butterflies all summer long. If you choose red and orange types, you probably may see hummingbirds, and hummingbird moths as well.
YOU CAN HELP!
Plant Milkweed: By planting milkweed, we will be giving monarchs a place to lay their eggs and reproduce. The main reason that these butterflies are endangered is not that they aren’t reproducing enough; it’s because their habitat is being destroyed and is in places where it is hard for them to find milkweed.
Many sources on the internet supply milkweed, both plants and seeds. One source you might find helpful is americanmeadows.com/wildflower-seeds/milkweed-seeds
By following these tips, you can help your milkweed plant grow quickly and provide food for Monarch caterpillars:
- Make sure to choose a spot in your garden that gets plenty of sunlight. Milkweed plants need at least six hours of sunlight each day in order to grow quickly.
- Milkweed plants need regular watering in order to grow quickly. Water your plant every other day, or when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch.
- Milkweed plants need a lot of nitrogen in order to grow quickly. Add a nitrogen-rich fertilizer to your garden twice a month to help your milkweed plant grow big and strong.
- Remove competing plants from the area around your milkweed plant. This will allow your milkweed plant to grow without any interference.
- Pinching off the flowers of your milkweed plant will help it focus its energy on growing tall and strong. Don’t worry, the flowers will grow back.
Do Not Use Pesticides or Herbicides: Healthy monarch butterflies migrate close to 3,000 miles and can fly up to 100 miles each day to reach their winter grounds in the mountain forests in central Mexico, from early November to mid-March.
(SOME) REASONS MONARCHS ARE ENDANGERED
Climate change: There are many reasons monarch butterflies are endangered, and one reason is climate change. As the Earth’s temperature continues to increase, the warmer weather is not as suitable for monarchs, and they are less able to migrate to colder climates as they have done in the past.
Parasites: Monarch butterflies are also at risk from parasites and diseases that can kill them. (A few summer ago in our garden, some insect killed several of our caterpillars on our milkweed plants!) And according to National Geographic, “the biggest danger to monarchs is a tiny parasite called Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE) that is spread by infected butterflies.” This parasite can cause the wings of monarchs to become deformed and makes them less able to fly.
Illegal Trade: Illegal trade is also a major threat to monarch butterflies. As stated by the World Wildlife Fund, “millions of Monarchs are illegally collected every year and traded across borders for use in traditional medicines, as wedding decorations, or placed in children’s gardens as butterfly pets. If this trend continues, it could lead to the extinction of monarch butterflies within a few decades.
Pesticides: Even though some pesticides that emit chemicals into the environment may not directly affect the extinction of monarch butterflies, they do play a significant role in population decline. According to the World Wildlife Fund, “when a pesticide is sprayed, a certain amount of the chemical enters the environment and persists for long periods of time. Due to this, plants and animals can absorb them through their root system or via leaves.” This means that monarchs are at risk because they drink water from milkweed plants.
UV Radiation: UV radiation is another factor that is harming monarch butterflies. As explained by National Geographic, “the thinning of the ozone layer allows more harmful UV radiation to reach the earth and damage the wings of Monarchs and their larvae.”
Air Pollution: Another reason why monarch butterflies are endangered is because of air pollution. As stated by National Geographic, “Rural populations in North America often burn crop residue.” This releases smoke (or smog) containing high amounts of ozone). Ozone enters through cracks in butterfly wings and can cause mortality rates to increase dramatically while butterflies are flying above urban areas.