One of the most iconic of insects, the monarch butterfly, has just been added to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species as endangered. This is a devastating piece of news for nature lovers, butterfly lovers, and gardeners who have intentionally cultivated landscapes to help monarchs.
Some gardeners have already noticed this summer’s relative absence of monarchs and miss them dearly. Many of you have been faithfully checking your milkweeds for caterpillars and scanning the skies for adults to no avail. We all want to know, now more than ever, how we can help monarchs.
How Can You Help Monarchs?
If you have a butterfly garden, maintain it. Keep tending to your milkweed and adding new species. Maintain a rich diversity of nectar plants that bloom from spring to fall. There are so many to choose from! Create safe places for insects of all sorts to rest, find shelter, and pupate. If you have a wild part of your property where milkweed occurs naturally, consider letting it grow undisturbed.
If you don’t have a butterfly garden, plant one. At the most basic level, all you need is a bunch of nectar rich flowers that must include milkweed. If you don’t have milkweed, grow some, it is the exclusive food source of monarch caterpillars. There are many species of milkweed that are less aggressive than the common type and that are easy to incorporate into the garden. Try them! We have swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), butterfly weed (A. tuberosa), and showy milkweed (A. speciosa) available at the nursery.
In addition to planting milkweed and nectar sources for monarchs, conservationists recommend eliminating use of pesticides. At the very least, do not use them anywhere near your butterfly garden or plants that you see butterflies visiting.
We Cannot Give Up
Habitat loss, lack of food sources for young, and pesticide use are the key issues constantly repeated in discussions with entomologists and conservationists. It is clear that we must double down on efforts to create safe habitat, go easy on the chemicals, and plant milkweed. While we can’t control what happens outside of our property, we can use our own spaces to help monarchs. Indeed, it is easy to feel disheartened, but we absolutely cannot give up.
Here’s a link to a Xerces Society post addressing why creating wild habitat is a better solution than captive breeding.
Here’s a DNR list of plants to help endangered monarchs. We have several of these available at the nursery.
For information about monarch migration, biology, habitat, and more, here’s a link to the Monarch Joint Venture website (formerly the University of Minnesota Monarch Lab).