Grow Milkweed to Help Save the Monarch Butterflies
Throughout the world, wildlife is under threat with so many species in danger of extinction.
One such species under threat is the Monarch butterfly. Their caterpillars ONLY eat milkweed with the plant providing all the nourishment the caterpillar needs to transform into the adult butterfly.
But very sadly, these milkweed plants are rapidly disappearing. They are losing their habitat because of land development and the widespread spraying of weed killer on the fields where they grow.
We all need to do our best to help wildlife wherever we can.
How can you help the Monarch butterfly?
You can grow the milkweed, a lovely wildflower that isn’t really a weed at all. Found in the North American fields, wetlands and prairies the milkweed is the sole host plant for the struggling monarch butterfly.
“Summer in a milkweed patch is a colorful place,” says Aunrag Agrawal, author of Monarchs and Milkweed. “Not only are the flowers beautiful, but fragrances waft by and bees are buzzing around. And you might see a monarch butterfly perched on a flower or find one of its caterpillars grazing the leaves.”
It is easy to grow your own milkweed
- There are many varieties of milkweed.
- Some thrive in full sun, others in humid conditions while other varieties manage in very dry conditions.
- As a perennial, the milkweed plant will come back every year, despite harsh winter conditions.
- They typically bloom rosy pink flowers but other colors are available too.
Milkweed seeds can be very slow to germinate and may take some time and patience. For best results and to speed up the germination process, place the seeds in wet paper towels in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 30 days prior to planting. Then plant the seeds in a sunny place about 1/2″ deep and water them for at least two weeks.
After about two months, your milkweed plant will be big enough for caterpillars to eat. Monarch caterpillars are eating machines – each one will chow through about twenty leaves. So make sure you have enough milkweed plants or the caterpillars will starve!
Above are five different views of a Monarch butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. From left to right, the emerging Monarch from the first opening of the chrysalis to the final unfolding and drying of its wings. The butterfly starts emerging upside down – and has to grab the chrysalis tightly with its legs to right itself.
Food for the adult Monarch butterfly
After it becomes a butterfly, the Monarch moves on to more than just the milkweed. While it starts out extracting the nectar from the milkweed flowers, it can go on to consume nectar from many different plants.
All of the following plants will attract the Monarch butterfly and many others – you will be providing a butterfly garden.
Annuals include coneflowers, impatiens, marigolds, phlox, sunflowers and verbena.
Perennials include asters, bee balm, butterfly weed, chrysanthemums, daisies, purple coneflower, sedum and yarrow.
Plant these wildflowers such as New England aster, bergamots or horsemints, black-eyed Susan, blazing stars, boneset, butterfly flower, coreopsis, ox-eye daisy and purple agertum
and don’t forget about fruit as adult Monarch (and other butterflies) also like to feed on banana, oranges and watermelon.