The Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is an remarkable insect, which is famous for its amazing migratory habits in addition to being admired because of its great beauty.
But regrettably the Monarch’s numbers have been falling fast because of combination of climate change, habitat destruction, the use of pesticides, and the lack of foodplants for its caterpillars, which can only eat species in the Milkweed family (Asclepiadaceae). But this implies that gardeners in any state where Monarchs live can help conserve the species by developing these plants that are attractive in their gardens.
Monarch’s migrate in spring all the way from Mexico and the Southern States of North America up as far as Canada and then replicate this in a long return journey when they fly south to overwinter.
There are many species of Milkweed that grow both in the cooler north and in the tropical warmth of the south. Female Monarchs do not care what the type is at least as long as it is an Asclepias it will do fine as someplace to lay its eggs and feed its striped caterpillars.
Milkweed will grow well in large flowerpots or in massive windowboxes if you have no access to a suitable garden, and, of course, that the foodplant can be grown in containers on a roof-garden or balcony.
Fortunately, in response to an increasing awareness of the plight of this beautiful but endangered insect, millions of people are doing what they can to help and there are now very many sites that could be easily found by searching online that will provide Milkweed seeds. Some of those sites also supply small ready-germinated plants, and many others have a wide variety of Milkweed species to choose from. There are even sites that supply seeds free of charge provided that you send a SASE.
Monarch caterpillars are very greedy and eat a lot of leaves. They will even have the flowers and seed pods, although fortunately the plants will often sprout again. The more Milkweed plants you grow the more caterpillars you will have the ability to support.
To watch the phases of the Monarch’s lifecycle is a superb experience as you find the striped striped caterpillars eventually change into jade-green chrysalises before their final transformation into the glorious winged adult. Just before they hatch another real miracle happens because the red and black of the newly-formed wings get stronger and stronger in colour and can be seen clearly through the transparent wing instances of the chrysalis.
To see this happen in your own garden brings a real sense of having done something positive to help one of Mother Nature’s most amazing creatures to survive. If you have loads of flowers growing the odds are that the adult Monarchs will stay a little while too. If they do, it’s as if they’re saying thank you!