Saving the Monarch Butterfly

The monarch butterfly is one of the most recognizable and well-studied butterflies on the planet. Orange wings with black lines and bordered with white dots are instantly recognizable. Yearly they have their seasonal migration with millions of monarchs migrating from the United States and Canada south to California and Mexico for the winter. The monarch butterfly or simply monarch is a milkweed butterfly in the family Nymphalid. More than pretty, monarch butterflies contribute to the health of the planet. Feeding on nectar, they pollinate many types of wildflowers. Monarch butterflies are an important food source for birds, small animals, and other insects.

In the last twenty years, there has been a significant decline in the monarch butterfly population. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 12/2020, the monarch butterfly can and should be considered for the status of endangered species, this will continue to be reviewed.

Primary reasons for the decline of the monarch butterfly:

  • Habitat losses and fragmentation, which are habitats that were once continuous or together and are separated into smaller areas, have occurred throughout the monarch’s range.
  • Pesticide use can destroy the milkweed monarchs need to survive.
  • A changing climate has intensified weather events that may impact monarch populations.

Monarch caterpillars need to have milkweed to eat and to develop into chrysalises and later grow into the iconic monarch butterfly, as well as to lay their eggs on it. In a pinch they, at least the older caterpillars will eat butternut squash. Milkweed is the ONLY plant monarch caterpillars eat and lay their eggs on.

Having milkweed in your garden with its many colors can be your way of helping protect the monarch butterfly and of course eliminating the use of pesticides. (####### February 12, 2020 Best Natural Weeding Strategies #######)

Milkweed native to New Jersey, will attract beautiful butterflies to your yard and help pollinators stay healthy. The monarch butterflies can then do what they do best, pollinate!

Some Milkweeds to consider that are native to New Jersey:

  • Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa – Butterfly weed is an attractive perennial with orange flowers. Height is 1 -2 feet. It is attractive to both bees and butterflies. It is the only milkweed species that does not have a white sap that is expected in milkweed.
  • Common milkweed, Asclepios syriaca – Common milkweed is the most abundant food source for the monarch butterfly. Its flowers are pink to purplish with an aroma, it grows to a height of 3 – 5 feet. The plant contains cardiac glycosides. These glycosides, when absorbed by monarch butterfly larvae whose sole source of food is milkweed foliage, make the larvae and adult butterflies toxic to birds and other animals.
  • Redring milkweed, Asclepias variegate – A shade-loving milkweed that grows under a canopy of dappled light or mostly shaded conditions. Pretty white with a red ring.
  • Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, – Although most milkweeds prefer full sun, this should be planted where the ground is moist. This milkweed has large, bright, blossoms at a height of 2-4 ft. It is a perennial made up of small, rose-purple flowers.
  • Whorled milkweed, Asclepias verticillate – Whorled milkweed is the smallest milkweed seed by weight in the milkweed plant family. Be aware that this plant will spread out. The adult plant is about two feet tall. Plant along garden borders and open spaces; it adds a soft wispy look in the garden. Color is white to cream, having yellow or green hues. Requires full sun. It is toxic to livestock.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture: the common and swamp milkweed had the highest egg survival rate. The findings indicate that while female monarchs do make choices, they don’t specialize in reproducing on a single milkweed species. What’s more, their egg-laying preference can change according to the time of the season, the prevalence and habitat of the milkweed species they encounter, and the plants’ robustness and maturity.

With the abundance of color in milkweed as well as being able to be planted in both shade and sun, helping the monarch butterfly can beautify your landscape as well!