The Los Angeles Times shared the sad, true, and yet hopeful story of how Western monarch butterflies are in danger of extinction. Their mysterious annual migration is from US Western regions, to coastal areas between Baja and Mendocino.
While the situation is grave - due to things like habit deconstruction, insecticides, herbicide, and the popular showy orange tropical milkweed plant in SoCal - there are excellent reasons for stepping up and being part of the solution.
Lending our time and energy to improve this precious population will help in important ways besides perpetuating these butterflies’ beauty in our world.
Theirs are necessary contributions to the planet. Caterpillars are a critical part of the food chain, especially for songbirds. Butterflies are important pollinators. Spreading pollen helps plants produce seeds; birds and other wildlife are fed, and plants reproduce.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has advised that 161 other species are in line ahead of the monarch butterfly to be saved, so it hasn’t even made the list. Perhaps instead of it that happening at all, our own awareness and willingness to create habitats of our own can make a difference.
Here are some significant ways that we can begin to do just that.
Plant and grow native milkweed. Tropical, non-native milkweed has been a popular plant that has actually damaged the butterflies’ population; it is recommended that gardeners rid space of these plants. Garden centers, especially native plant nurseries, generally place their native milkweed on sale in April. Plants thrive both in yards, and windowsill pots.
Make sure milkweed plants are organic. Bright orange aphids love milkweed, and gardeners are often unaware that plants are laced with pesticides that are toxic to caterpillars. It can be difficult to spot a treated plant at a garden center, so be mindful to seek out organically grown plants. (The aphids are less harmful to the plant and caterpillars than are pesticides, by the way!)
Lobby your garden center. If enough gardeners ask for native milkweed and stop buying the tropical variety, nurseries will respond. Ask for native milkweed seeds also, as the plants are not sold in the winter.
Plant lots of nectar flowers. Adult monarchs love nectar from many flowers. Drought-tolerant native flowers that do well in SoCal to attract many butterflies are sunflowers, native buckwheats, and black sage. Window boxes bloom beautifully with these kind of seeds.
Don’t try to “rescue” monarchs. Butterflies raise indoors tend to lose their innate navigation systems and can’t migrate properly. Raising monarchs indoors harms their systems. Even when outdoor enclosures eventually release the butterflies to migrate, disorientation can result and the butterflies may introduce diseases to the wild.
Avoid pesticides and herbicides. Insecticides are harmful to butterflies and other pollinators because the toxic residue accumulates in the pollen and nectar of treated plants. If feeling particularly bold, lobby government representative and agencies to phase out the use of chemicals because they devastate the beneficial insects that pollinate our food.