Milkweed, that is. I know, funny how that headline kinda grabbed your attention, right? Anyway, my sister, Nora, a wonderful gardener and nature lover, brought to my attention something that has been hovering on the edge of my consciousness for awhile now (planted there by various headlines that I only glanced at); Monarch butterflies are in danger. Their numbers are down 90% over a few years ago. I’m going to cut and paste part of what she wrote to be included in her local horticultural society newsletter on the subject:
The problem appears to have a lot to do with habitat loss, and in particular, loss of milkweed plants, which the caterpillars require to feed on. Millions of hectares have been newly planted with herbicide tolerant corn and soybean or existing farmland converted to these crops in the past 10 years causing the elimination of weeds including milkweed that formerly bordered fields. There has also been a reduction in the area available for overwintering in Mexico and a series of weather conditions in the past few years that have been hard on this species. CBC radio’s Day 6, February 22, did a story on the decline . At the end of the segment, the interviewer asked if there was anything that people could do and the guest, Dr. Karen Oberhauser, said Canadians and Americans could plant milkweed and nectar producing plants in our gardens to promote breeding and feeding of the butterflies. This call is echoed by Dr. Taylor, “Let’s hope there are favourable conditions for monarchs over the next several years. While waiting for conditions to improve, let’s plant milkweed –lots and lots of it.”
So there you have it. We need to plant the milkweed varieties that are native to our own regions (apparently planting non-native varieties can mess with the migration patterns of the Monarchs; yes, they are delicate creatures!) and plant them either by seed or by transplantation. If you do buy bedding plants, make sure they have been raised without insecticide or herbicide, since butterflies are extremely sensitive to them.
Here is a link to The University of Minnesota’s “Monarchs in the Classroom” program and some useful information about what kind of plants to plant in your garden to help the Monarchs and other butterflies, and by extension, the birds and bees.
I did a little research and found a site that describes Swamp Milkweed as a native variety that will work well in moist, sunny areas. Here is a link to that site, called Wild Flora’s Wild Gardening. She sounds like a woman after my own gardening heart.
Another variety that looks promising and can be grown from seed after last frost, is Butterfly Weed. Here’s a link to information about that. Also, here’s a picture of its vibrantly coloured flower.
You’ve probably already read my post(s) about saving the Bees, but if you haven’t, the link is there (just click on the word Bees!). The nice thing about growing milkweed is that it will also attract bees and other butterflies; and unfortunately, also aphids. At least aphids provide a nice snack for birds and ladybugs, so that’s not so bad.
I hope you are inspired to find some milkweed in your local nursery or order some seeds from your favourite on-line nursery.
I’m just counting the days until spring. Despite all appearances, I believe it’s getting closer!