First the good news: Monarch butterfly populations, which had fallen to alarmingly low levels in 2013, rebounded slightly in 2014. But we need to do a lot more to insure that these amazing little creatures can thrive. They’re very good indicators about the health of the environment in general, and if they fail, it’s likely that we will soon follow.
However human development continues to consume more and more Monarch habitat. So what can we do to turn this situation around?
The answer? Milkweeds.
Milkweeds are the only plants that Monarchs can eat in their larval state, although they still like them as adults, as you can see from the picture above, which shows a Monarch sipping on some Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). And while it turns out that tropical milkweeds, which are readily available from garden centers, are not the ideal host plants for these butterflies if you live in North America, they’re not necessarily that destructive either. But why plant a foreign species when you can plant one that was biologically designed to live and thrive right here? Choose the aforementioned Asclepias incarnata or Asclepias tuberosa, also known as Butterfly weed. Swamp milkweed flowers tend to be pink, and Butterfly weed flowers tend to be orange, but both will attract butterflies and bees to your garden like crazy!
It’s also important to make sure your milkweed isn’t treated with glyphosate fertilizers like Roundup. Those chemicals, also known as neonics or neonicotinoids, are toxic to pollinators!