The spectacular sight of migrating Monarchs in the fall is becoming a rarity, as Monarch populations have declined to dangerously low numbers. One way to help is to plant milkweed plants like the ones growing here. These plants are Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), one of several native milkweed species you can grow in your yard.
Why milkweed? Many pollinators are “picky eaters,” attracted to the unique chemistry of certain native plants, and have evolved to lay their eggs only on the specific plants that provide the nutrients needed by their young. Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed (Asclepias spp.), its host plant. The adult butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed – the only food their caterpillars will eat!
As the caterpillars consume the leaves, they also ingest a milky sap containing a toxin that protects them from birds and other predators. This protection extends to the adult Monarch butterflies. The toxin makes a bird that mistakenly eats one sick, and that bird will never prey on another Monarch butterfly again. The distinctive orange and black coloration of adult Monarchs acts as a “Do not eat me!” warning to birds.
Help Monarchs and other pollinators!
As a result of development and other land use changes, there has been a tremendous loss of the milkweed plants needed by Monarch caterpillars. Planting milkweed not only helps the caterpillars, it also is a great way to help the adult Monarchs and other pollinators – milkweed flowers provide nectar to many species of bees and butterflies.
Milkweed is not the only native plant with nectar needed by pollinators. Adult Monarchs consume the nectar of many flowers in addition to milkweed as they feed throughout the entire growing season and during their fall migration. By planting a variety of natives and limiting pesticide use in your yard, you can provide much-needed healthy habitat for all pollinators and help reverse the decline in their populations.
This website is a wealth of information about environmentally-friendly landscaping and has a searchable plant database. You can use the database to find native plants for your yard that will attract and support butterflies, hummingbirds, and native bees.
Monarch Joint Venture: Create Habitat for Monarchs
Xerces Society: Monarch Conservation
Pollinator Partnership: Selecting Plants for Pollinators