Of monarchs and milkweed (Suzuki rocks!)

Monarch butterfly

Join the crusade to feed the returning Monarchs.

You may have heard that Monarch butterflies aren’t doing very well this year. Turns out their numbers have hit an all-time low while they were winter vacationing in Mexico. Jode Roberts of the Toronto-based Homegrown National Park Project reports on David Suzuki’s website that there are two reasons for this: severe weather and “the virtual eradication of milkweed (the plant monarch mothers and caterpillars depend on)” along their migratory path back to Canada for the summer.

So the David Suzuki Foundation has launched #GotMilkweed. They were selling individual milkweed plants and have already sold out. You can still buy milkweed plants at your local garden nursery, particularly if that nursery specializes in native plants. (Humber Nurseries in Brampton lists 6 different varieties in white, pink and red.) The idea is to create a “milkweed corridor” through Toronto for the returning monarchs which, you’d have to assume, would be pretty hungry by the time they got across the border.

I asked Miriam Goldberger of Wildflower Farm, an expert on wildflowers and Canadian native plants to weigh in on this idea. (I previewed her book, Taming Wildflowers, in a posting last week.) The first thing I learned from her is that when it comes to planting milkweed, you’ve got to make sure it’s either in a deep container or in the ground. “Because [the plant] forms a deep tap root as it matures, Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberose) will not survive in shallow containers after a few years.”

Timing is everything, too. Let’s not forget that the monarchs will be here for the summer–hopefully–but they won’t be planning to stay. That means they need food supplies all summer long and well into the fall so they can fuel up for their return to Mexico. “Creating a corridor is a a superb idea that many environmentalists recommend,” noted Miriam. “In Ontario, milkweeds have finished blooming quite some time before most Monarchs migrate south. It is essential to provide later blooming wildflowers such as asters, liatrises and goldenrods that provide the essential nutrients that Monarchs require in order to sustain them during their lengthy and arduous trek.”

So add some native flowers to your garden to feed the butterflies from spring to fall. Bonus: you’ll have blazing colours throughout the season.

Photo: Courtesy of Gualberto107/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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