They form a kaleidoscope cloud of orange, black, and white as they flutter by. The Monarch butterfly, true to its name is a grand sight to behold. However, their numbers have been dwindling according to The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. The organization estimates that since the 1990s there has been an estimated 80 % decline in population. The key to saving them? Milkweed.
According to scientists, this drop in population is mostly due to the threat of losing milkweed, a plant that is instrumental in sustaining the lives of monarch caterpillars. With an excessive rise in use of herbicide, the plant is dying out and so is the caterpillar that relies on it for sustenance. However, there are other contributing factors are responsible such as: climate change.
The number of butterflies making migration is estimated to be around 56.6 million. Due to the urgency of the situation, partnerships across the U.S. are coming into action to help recover and restore this decreasing population. In the works is a monarch breeding habitat to conserve these species before they completely disappear.
In February, the federal government earmarked $3.2 million to Fish and Wildlife Service for rescuing the monarch. A petition to list the monarch as threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act is now under review by the Department of Interior.
Interestingly, monarchs have long been considered both an indicator of ecological health and a representative of pollinator populations. Unfortunately, through the wide indiscriminate use of herbicides in the United States, many people are destroying the milkweed, and by so doing, they are destroying the reign of this magnificent orange and black icon.
How do we save this royal butterfly?
– First, we urgently need to stop destroying their natural habitat by indiscriminately killing milkweed through the use of herbicides, and we must require others to do the same.
– Secondly, we should plant and encourage others to plant milkweed in yards and gardens.
– More than 100 milkweed species exist throughout world, and at least 17 are found growing native throughout Nebraska. They all belong to the genus name Asclepias; yet their common name includes the word weed. To help save the monarch, consider planting the following three native milkweeds.
Orange colored flowers: Asclepias tuberosa carries the common name butterfly weed. This milkweed is distinctive for its orange-colored flowers. Monarchs and other butterflies are drawn to its bright orange, nectar-rich flowers. A. tuberosa is perfectly adapted to life in a home garden, staying in place with a long bloom season.
Rosy pink flowers: Asclepias incarnata, is known as swamp milkweed. It has more narrow, pointed leaves than most, and its seed pods mirror that shape. Monarch caterpillars love this milkweed. Its rosy-pink flowers sit atop 3-to 4-foot-tall stems. This plant is perfect in the back of a flower border. Although swamp milkweed makes a great garden plant, in some cases it may spread a bit.
Purple flowers: Asclepias purpurascens, commonly called purple milkweed, also makes an excellent garden plant. It is not as aggressive as swamp milkweed, and by July its beautiful deep purple flowers sit atop its two to three foot stems attracting monarchs and other pollinators. Purple milkweed prefers partial sun. It will grow in average garden soil and actually does best in clayish soil.
Don’t let common names keep you from adding outstanding plants to your garden. Weed in their name isn’t always bad. There are few things we have the power to change, but if we encourage enough people to band together, stop destroying and begin planting native milkweeds, perhaps we can halt its decline and keep the magnificent Monarch butterfly off the endangered list.