February 25, 2022 Supporting the Monarch Butterfly: How Native Plants Can Make a Difference During the summer of 2021, our work crews were commenting on the noticeably low number of Monarchs in both larvae and adult forms. For instance, we usually have hoards of monarchs in our greenhouses, munching on the young and succulent milkweed leaves. But last year, most of the milkweed leaving our greenhouses went out onto project sites without bite marks or any feeding damage. Usually, the hungry yellow, white and black caterpillars are so numerous that it calls for the careful relocation of the larvae to milkweed near other established native plants that benefit monarch butterflies beyond the greenhouse doors. Drought conditions that were prevalent last season can really limit the growth and quality of milkweed plants. Monarch butterflies depend on this food source for reproduction, and the dry conditions can limit the quantity of nectar in the flowers. It is also known that extreme heat can stress the Monarch butterfly, just as it does in humans. Extended periods of hotter temperatures last year caused mortality in immature stages, leaving fewer butterflies to emerge from chrysalises. Although the drought in the Midwest did seem to negatively impact the Minnesota monarch population, other areas in the country fared much better. Natural Shore enjoys staying up to date with blog posts from Monarch overwintering sites in Mexico (eastern population) and California (western population), found on Monarch Joint Venture’s website. The peak of the 2021-2022 eastern monarch overwintering season brought an estimate of 4.5 forest hectares being occupied by the black and orange winged beauties; compare this estimate with last year’s total of 2.1 hectares. To add to the positivity, the Western monarchs had a massive, unbelievable population increase, increasing from 2,000 last year to 247,237 for the 2021-22 season! These data certainly do bring cautious optimism. However, we still need to be vigilant and work to expand pollinator habitat whenever the opportunity presents itself. It is essential that we all contribute what we can: advocacy, education, citizen science, and/or native plants to help monarch butterflies! Monarchs need more than Milkweed We often think of the intricate connection of Monarchs and milkweed. Monarchs being a host-plant specialist means that the caterpillars need nourishment from the vegetative parts of Asclepias species. As with everything in nature, this relationship is not a closed vacuum. Milkweeds do indeed provide a nectar resource during their bloom time, but Monarchs need more! Flowering, nectar-rich plants throughout the season are essential to the Monarch life cycle, especially in the late season before they head southward on wing. Luckily, our nursery locally grows some favorite native plants for adult Monarch indulgence. Here is a list of nectar-rich native plants that will fuel Monarch butterflies throughout their seasonal presence in Minnesota. Please refer to our website for more information on plant cultural requirements and heights. Summer: Culver’s Root, Black Eyed Susan, Bergamot, Oxeye Late Summer: Meadow Blazing Star, Boneset, Purple Coneflower, Rough Blazing Star Fall: Stiff Goldenrod, New England Aster, Sneezeweed, Aromatic Aster Planting some of these native species as companions with milkweed species can transform your land into a Monarch haven. An added bonus is that this plant diversity will attract a wide array of other pollinators to your natural area, making it more ecologically valuable. Show your love for the monarch – a conservation icon – by providing food, fuel and cover. Your actions will ensure the strong presence of Minnesota’s official state butterfly. We can’t wait to see you in May at our first plant sale of the year! Then get ready, our beloved Monarch populations will follow suit shortly after!