Monarch Butterflies are in serious trouble. The results of the status of the monarch populations that overwinter in the oyamel forests of Mexico was announced on March 13, 2013: the area that the Monarch Butterflies had declined was almost 59% from the area they occupied last winter!!
The experts at MonarchWatch.org (who prepared the graph below) state, “… this population is the smallest recorded since the monarch colonies came to the attention of scientists in 1975.” Though the situation has been getting worse for years, this is the worst yet.
There are several reasons for this decline including the following:
- The loss of milkweed plants which are host plants necessary to the survival of Monarch Butterflies
- Deforestation and poor condition of the oyamel fir forests where most Monarch’s spend the winter
- Weather that has been not just unusually hot and dry but harmful to Monarch’s (read more on the MonarchWatch blog)
There is some good news–we can help by planting milkweed.
Yes, nectar plants are important for adult Monarch and other butterflies, but they also need milkweed. “Monarch caterpillars need milkweed plants (Asclepias sp.) to grow and develop, and monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs.” (Monarch Joint Venture) And we can help provide the necessary milkweed plants by adding some to our gardens/property this spring.
In many areas of the United States and southern Canada that is in Monarch Butterfly range there is still time to start some plants indoors (4-8 weeks before planting outdoors which is done after all danger of frost is past), the most successful way according to MonarchWatch.org that provides detailed planting instructions.
There are a lot of varieties of milkweed and you can learn which milkweed species are recommended for your area (including photos) here. You can also get specific information about which milkweed species is native to your county on these maps (take the latin name on this map and look for that species on the link just above).
Please be aware that some nurseries and other seed and plant sources sell milkweed that is native to other continents–please only use species native to North America as these are the plants with which the Monarch Butterflies have evolved and use. Here are some seed and plant sources that sell in various areas of U.S. and Canada (you have a better chance of getting milkweed best for your area by purchasing as close to home as you can).
Will you help by adding some milkweed this year?