Milkweed? Yes please! Monarch butterfly habitats in the city

By Mike Lorenc, Conservation Garden Park

 

The monarch butterfly has one of the most unique and fascinating life cycles of any creature. They start from an egg, hatch to a caterpillar eating milkweed leaves, form a chrysalis, and then undergo a complete reorganization of their entire body to transform into an adult monarch butterfly. This entire process from egg to adult takes only about a month.

The latest population numbers on these marvelous creatures are a bit disheartening. A recent census by the Xerces Society of the monarch populations show a decline from 1.2 million 20 years ago to just 200,000 this year—a trend mirrored by other research around the western U.S.

The main reason for the decline appears to be habitat loss—which is where we, as homeowners here in the West, can help. We have landscapes consisting primarily of grass, which for pollinators is like a barren desert. We can alter a portion of our yards to compensate for the loss of habitat by creating a butterfly waystation. It’s a chance for homeowners to not only help save a species that otherwise might simply fade away, but also put in a landscape that is both more beautiful and less water intensive than a typical, grass-dominated yard. And it won’t just attract monarchs—it will attract many types of butterflies and other beneficial pollinators as well. Monarchs need two types of plants to not only thrive, but to even survive: nectar-heavy flowers as a food source for the grown butterflies, and milkweed for reproduction and caterpillar food. Plant any or all of the following perennials to ensure a great food source for monarchs and other butterflies:

  • Echinacea
  • Asters
  • Black-eyed Susan,
  • Liatris
  • Sunflowers
  • Salvias
  • Goldenrods

 

And because they each bloom at different times, butterflies will keep coming back all summer. Water is also good for attracting butterflies, so the addition of a shallow birdbath will help.

But what’s declining the most is a place for monarchs to lay their eggs: the common milkweed. Not only is it crucial for their reproduction, it’s the only plant the caterpillars can eat. They come in reds, yellow, and oranges and are readily available at local nurseries, and are the key to monarch butterfly survival. These beautiful, hardy and beneficial flowers are critical, but it’s important to note that they are prolific once they get started, so be sure to plant them somewhere you can control them. They have “weed” in their name for a reason.

As a side note, habitat gardens like this do better in full sun. Consider placing a few flat stones in the landscape as well so the monarchs can rest and warm up.

For more information about monarch habitats, visit xerces.org.  To enjoy monarchs in person, plan to attend our annual Party in the Park. At this FREE family event, we’ll release 500 monarchs at two separate times.  Enjoy fun nature-themed activities and education for kids and adults alike, live animal shows, music and so much more.  Food trucks will be on hand for those who wish to purchase meals.

 

Party in the Park @ The Conservation Garden Park

Saturday, August 18, 2018

8275 South 1300 West, West Jordan, Utah

4-7 pm.  Butterfly releases at 5:00 pm and 6:30 pm.

conservationgardenpark.org/events

 

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