How to Attract Monarch Butterflies to Your Garden: Grow Milkweed
Growing Milkweed Can Help the Monarch Butterfly
Fortunately for the Monarch butterfly, more and more people are doing what they can to help this wonder of nature survive, and the best way is to plant milkweed (Asclepias species) that the striped caterpillars need to eat.
Many organisations have been set up with this mission in mind, and when searching online using the words "monarch butterfly" + "milkweed seeds," you will soon find websites that, at a very reasonable price, will sell you seeds of the many species of milkweeds that exist, and there are a few companies that even distribute the seeds free for a SASE.
Most of the milkweeds have pretty flowers and look great in your garden as well as being the only plant the Monarch butterfly caterpillar can eat.
There are species of milkweed, such as the Showy Milkweed (A. speciosa) that can grow in the cooler, more northern states, as well as ones that like a warmer temperature like the very popular Tropical or Scarlet Milkweed (A.currassavica). If you don't have a garden a balcony, a roof terrace will work just as well because milkweed will grow well in large flowerpots or even in window boxes.
Most of the species of milkweed are easy to grow and should produce seed pods too, as long as they don't get totally eaten by butterfly caterpillars. The Monarch larvae eat a lot of leaves so the more plants you grow, the better chance you will have of being able to rear more caterpillars through to the chrysalis stage, from which in a matter of weeks the adult will emerge.
Monarch Butterflies Are Threatened in America and They Need Our Help
The Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is surely one of the most beautiful and fascinating insects in the world with its large reddish-orange wings veined in strong black lines, its soaring graceful flight, and its amazing migratory habits.
The Monarch is known to fly incredibly long distances and is one of the only butterfly species that can cross the Atlantic Ocean. This butterfly migrates southwards each year from Canada and the northernmost States and millions overwinter in California and Mexico before starting a return journey in the spring.
Sadly over the last few years, the numbers of this magnificent insect have been dropping rapidly due to the combination of climate changes, destruction of their habitat and food plants, as well as the widespread use of pesticides and herbicides. Illegal cutting down of the forests the butterflies overwinter in is another serious threat to their survival According to CNN there are at least one million fewer Monarch butterflies that have been overwintering than last year. Recently many Monarch butterflies were caught in freak wintery conditions that caused them to fall from the trees they were roosting in. Climate Change is another serious threat to the ongoing survival of this amazing insect.
Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar and Chrysalis
Stages in the Lifecycle of the Monarch Butterfly
Monarch chrysalises are a wonder to behold in themselves, being fashioned in a pale jade green with a row of bright metallic golden spots. They hang down like little bottles of magic butterfly potion. As the Monarch inside gets ready to complete its metamorphosis, the colours of its wings can be easily seen through the increasingly transparent wing casing area.
Finally the day arrives, and the butterfly breaks its way out, expands and dries its wings for an hour or so before leaving on its maiden flight. To see your first Monarch go through this amazing transformation is a day you will never forget.
Monarch butterflies live in many other countries besides Canada and America, including Australia and New Zealand, and in Europe they are found as breeding populations in the Canary Islands and Madeira. They are only able to colonise new territory if their food-plants grow in the countries they have arrived in. The populations in Madeira, The Azores, and the Canary Islands are dependent on gardeners growing the Tropical Milkweed. They also can use the Balloon Plant (Gomphocarpus physocarpus) and the Swan Plant (G. fruticosus), which have become naturalised in some places, and are also grown as ornamental garden plants. Because these plants can be found in some parts of Portugal and mainland Spain, monarch butterflies have also been able to colonise these countries.
The Monarch butterfly has sometimes been found as a rare migrant to the UK and has even got as far north as Russia and Sweden. Perhaps it is not surprising that it is also known as the Wanderer butterfly? With its travels all over the world and ability to even cross oceans it is certainly well-named!
Free milkweed seeds here: http://www.livemonarch.com/free-milkweed-seeds.htm
Monarch Butterfly Poll
Have you ever seen a monarch butterfly in your garden?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Someone accidentally weed whacked my lush, budding milkweed to the ground today. Is there anything I can do to save it and help it regrow?
Just leave it and wait and hopefully, it will sprout again if the roots are still undamaged. Was it cut down or sprayed with herbicide? If it was cut it should recover if there was any stem left. If it was subjected to weedkiller it will probably die.Helpful 1
How can my yard be designated as a preserve of Monarchs?
You need to grow Milkweeds to encourage the butterflies to lay their eggs in your garden. It is best to use species that grow wild in the area you live in, if this is possible. I am not sure where you are but if in North America, there are Milkweed species that grow wild in most of the States. Once the Monarchs have used your garden they should continue coming back. I am in Portugal and last year reared four generations of the butterflies. The females come back because they know I have Milkweed growing here. As long as you grow their food-plant the Monarchs should keep coming. Plant other flowers and flowering shrubs to attract and feed the adults with nectar.
© 2008 Steve Andrews