March 14, 2013 - Did you see the story in the news about the dramatic decline in Monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico? There have been declines every winter for the past 15 years, but this year was the worst: 59%. The good news? You can help to bring about the Monarch’s revival. How? By growing milkweed.Milkweed is their favorite food. I can well remember pulling apart the sticky seeds as a child; the tall plants grew in a weedy area in our neighbor’s yard. Need I mention that modern pesticides are the problem? They’ve killed the majority of milkweed in this country, and the Monarch could well wind up as collateral damage, if we don’t take action. You’ll be happy to know that helping the Monarch is easy.
The job is made that much pleasanter by virtue of the fact that the milkweed flower is pretty. There are a number of varieties to choose from, all of them belonging to the Asclepias family. You can find the seeds for sale at http://www.milkweedseeds.com/ . They get pretty tall in good soil – up to 4 feet, but in my current location, I’ll expect maybe 3. Milkweed doesn’t do well in heavy clay, so if that’s what you’ve got, you’ll need to lighten it with some peat moss and compost (leaves, needles, grass, etc.). Be aware that the lovely Asclepias referred to as Butterfly Weed can be hard to grow; I’ve tried and have yet to produce a single plant! The other milkweeds are easier.An orange Monarch butterfly poised on top of a purple milkweed is indeed a pretty sight. One of nature’s most breathtaking surprises is being surrounded by migrating Monarch’s, an experience my husband and I shared decades ago. We were walking a woodland path, and gradually became aware of one, then two, then three, then more Monarch’s accompanying us on our hike. Their flight was curiously bouncy and unhurried, and they seemed to delight in our company. A few alighted on us briefly, then continued on their leisurely way, knowing the way a butterfly knows that their assignation lay ahead of them, the same as the year before.
Imagine being a rest stop for a weary Monarch! Each small patch of milkweed provided by a caring gardener might seem like a small thing, but taken collectively, they could make the difference between survival and extinction. A Monarch butterfly is a small creature that enriches the lives of countless people by means of its beauty and friendliness. Surely we can’t abandon this friend to the uncaring powers that be!Warm weather is on the way. Plant some milkweed.
With thanks to the Associated Press.