Spring is finally here! Trees are budding out and tender flowers are pushing up through the soil. Soon butterflies and birds that have taken harbor in the south will be arriving; with them will be the majestic monarchs.
Good news is preceding the monarchs to the Midwest. According to World Wildlife Fund, Mexico in collaboration with CONANP (a Spanish acronym translated to Protected Natural Areas) and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve announced the total forest area occupied by overwintering monarch colonies had a 144 percent increase from the previous season.
MonarchWatch.org/blog, based on reports of migration through Texas in early March, verifies the highest number of monarchs moving northward since 2000. This record-breaking number with the probability that substantial more colonies are still en route from Mexico are encouraging. MonarchWatch’s report continues that previous estimates seem to be underestimated and based on further “… sightings of multiple Monarchs on the move in short time periods are unprecedented.”
Monarch watchers report seeing groups of monarch butterflies actually traveling to sites with large areas of milkweed. Perhaps people taking up the plight of monarchs and their rapid decline has caught interest. Those who have begun planting milkweed may have helped to bring back this majestic butterfly. You can help keep it here and help the population grow further.
There are several varieties of milkweed plants that monarchs favor. First, let me caution you that butterfly bush is not milkweed. Milkweed is the only host plant for monarchs; that is, it is the only plant they will lay their eggs on, as it is the only plant their caterpillars can eat.
Here are some of the milkweed plants best for the Midwest:
• Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnate).
• Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).
• Whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata).
• Spider milkweed (Asclepias viridis).
• Purple milkweed (Asclepias pupurascens).
• Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).
A few years ago I planted a “milkweed garden.” It has been one of the most fun and fascinating gardens I have ever planted. I have watched many butterflies visit the flowers, but when a monarch comes it first flies over it, maybe once, then immediately flies over again and as if jumping for joy – flitters up and down, over and over. It is really something to behold. And, every monarch does the same little milkweed dance when visiting the milkweed garden!
Be sure to pay attention to the height that each milkweed will grow, and put the taller ones either in the back, or in the center, depending on the location of your garden. Here are some nurseries where you can purchase genuine native varieties. Purchasing these plants at big box stores are rarely, if ever, truly native.
Be sure to look at both the first and second botanical name (Latin name). I have noticed in recent years that most big-box stores do not even label with botanical names any longer; they simply use a generic description like “sun loving” or “shade plant.” Obviously, this is no help. If the nurseries below are too far for you to make the trip (they are fun day trips), most will ship, and package their plants very well. So, buy with confidence. They all have beautiful websites, too, and help with planning:
• Missouri Wildflower Nursery, mowildflowers.net, Jefferson City, MO 65109, 573-496-3492.
• Critical Site Products & Prairie Wetland Nursery, CritSite.com, Belton, MO 64012, 816-331-9738.
• Down to Earth Services & Green Thumb Gardens, DTEKC.com, Kansas City, MO, 816-207-7960.
• Grimm’s Gardens, GrimmsGardens.com, Hiawatha, KS, 785-459-2586 (Atchison location too).
Reach Lynn Youngblood at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net.