Milkweed for Monarchs
Dwindling monarch butterfly populations have prompted some gardeners to pepper their landscapes with milkweeds, the various plants in the Asclepiadaceae family on which monarchs lay their eggs. Chubby, zebra-striped monarch caterpillars gorge themselves on the plants' milky alkaloid sap, which makes them poisonous to birds.
Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on the leaves of milkweed, the only host plant for this iconic butterfly species. As such, milkweed is critical for the survival of monarchs. Without it, they cannot complete their life cycle and their populations decline.
Eradication of milkweed both in agricultural areas as well as in urban and suburban landscapes is one of the primary reasons that monarchs are in trouble today.
The good news is that planting milkweed is one of the easiest ways that each of us can make a difference for monarchs. There are several dozen species of this wildflower native to North America, so no matter where you live, there is at least one milkweed species naturally found in your area.
Planting local milkweed species is always best. You can collect your own seed or purchase seed or plants to add to your garden, or any landscape in your community. Gardens should be planted in sunny spots, with some protection from the wind. At least one milkweed species that is native to the area will provide food for monarch caterpillars.
A variety of nectar plants with staggered bloom times give butterflies and other pollinators a continuous food source. Include a combination of early, middle and late blooming species to fuel butterfly breeding and migration. Herbicides and pesticides should be avoided, as they can hurt caterpillars and adults.
The milkweed plant is an upright specimen that may reach 2 to 6 feet. Leaves grow from a thick stalk and are large and green, taking on a reddish color as the plant matures. In youth, leaves are waxy, pointed and dark green, later dropping from the stem and allowing the milky substance to exude from the growing milkweed. Stems become hollow and hairy as the plant matures. The milkweed flower is pink to purple to orange and blooms from June to August.
Milkweeds requires only occasional watering, once established in the landscape. Container plants require regular watering.
For more information, check out these websites.
Make Way for Monarchs: http://makewayformonarchs.org
Monarch Watch: http://www.monarchwatch.org/
Monarch Larva Monitoring Project: http://www.mlmp.org/
|| Barbara Allen
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