The Milkweed & Monarch Situation – Links & Resources
Butterflies feed on lots of different plants, but each species need a particular plant or group of plants on which to lay their eggs. Monarch butterflies need Milkweed (Asclepias species) for reproduction, and these lovely indigenous flowers are in decline – between agricultural practices, roadside chemical sprays, and everything else that puts native species in decline, milkweed species, like many other plants that support native wildlife, are in trouble.
I wanted to take just a quick minute to assemble some resources and links that will help you gather all the necessary info on this topic, and the exciting movement happening in backyard gardens to protect the gorgeous, famous butterfly we call the Monarch.
First things first: you can read a great summary of the situation in this well-done article by Pat Sutton at Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. For some more sciencey-stuff, check out this summary I found through the US Forest Service (it also has info for propagating Milkweed).
Organizations like The Xerxes Society and the Florida Association of Native Nurseries are at the helm, encouraging gardeners all over the US to create milkweed way-stations for migrating Monarchs. The good news is that people are stoked to help out the butterflies; the bad news is that it takes a little research on your part to get the right kind of milkweed.
There are oodles of native milkweeds. There are also non-native milkweeds, like Asclepias physocarpa and Asclepias currasivica. While the butterflies love these species, there’s some concern as to whether or not they could be doing more harm than good for Monarchs. In my opinion (and it’s just that), when it comes to any controversy over natives vs. non-natives, the answer is simple: go native. There are tons of native species of Milkweed, which is what our Monarchs evolved on, so don’t introduce something else to the mix that could have consequences down the line that we can’t see right now. To read more about this topic, I greatly recommend this article by Monika Maeckle at the Texas Butterfly Ranch, and this piece (PDF) from the Virginia Native Plant Society.
So, are you ready to plant a Monarch way-station? Great. Here’s what you have to find out:
1) Which species are native to YOUR region of the US (because not all are)
2) Which species are a good fit for YOUR garden or spot (because not all are)
3) Where you can get them
Hopefully this is where I can be of some help.
Here is an amazing little list by the Monarch Joint Venture of which native Milkweeds occur in particular regions. Please check this out if you’re serious about Milkweeds and Monarchs – it also gives you a little info on the kinds of soil conditions that each species prefers. (I’ve inserted a snip of it below to bait you.) Here are a bunch of regional maps of Ascelpias species by the Biota of North America Program which is also good, except that it includes the non-native ones. So my advice is to write down the ones that work for your area, then find out which ones are native and stick to those. You can also check any of your local area field guides (like these Audubon regional field guides), find your state’s native plant society, or talk to your local cooperative extension office (one of my favorite resources).
Where to get the plants is trickier than it sounds, but fear not: more and more nurseries are supporting native species so you just need to do a little digging on this. Here’s a list by Monarch Watch of Milkweed plant and seed providers. Here is a national list by Plant Native of native plant nurseries (listed alphabetically by state, so for Maryland I would click “Kentucky to Montana”), which is an awesome place to start. And, truthfully, it can also be as easy as Googling “native plant nursery” and your state – that’s how I find mine. Make sure your nurseries and your garden practices exclude chemical use. Invertebrates like butterflies are easily affected by them, and there’s no sense in planting a Milkweed garden for Monarchs if you’re going to use toxic chemicals.
Okay, I hope I covered enough to get you started and at least get a well-rounded bit of information on the subject. If you have any suggestions for other sites, please get into the comments section and leave a link with a description of what the site is about. Thanks for reading, and happy gardening this summer!
Posted on February 23, 2014, in Biology/Ecology, Connected Living, Fauna, Flora and tagged Asclepias, butterfly, caterpillar, conservation, flowers, gardening, host, how to, invertebrate, migration, milkweed, monarch, monarch watch, monarchs, native, naturalist, nature, non native, nurseries, plant, resources, save, species, support, way station. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.