Creating a Monarch Butterfly Habitat
North American monarch butterflies migrate annually between their breeding areas in eastern North America and their overwintering grounds in the fir forests of high mountains in central Mexico. By spring, most of the Monarchs have already migrated from Mexico. As they travel up along the U.S. Gulf Coast, female monarchs lay eggs on milkweed and die soon after. After their offspring, hatchling caterpillars, feed on the milkweed, they form their chrysalises where they stay for about 10 days as they transform into monarchs. The new monarchs head north, weather permitting, laying eggs on milkweed along the way, and end up in Wisconsin by May or early June.
Milkweed plants are vital to the survival of monarch larvae, as are nectar sources for adult monarchs, whose overwintering numbers have dropped in recent years. Luckily, there are several groups dedicated to saving the monarchs by planting and maintaining milkweed patches all over the country. In the United States, federal and state agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and academic programs have collaborated to form The Monarch Joint Venture—a sciencebased, coordinated approach to protect the monarch migration and conserve its population. The North American Monarch Conservation Plan was developed in 2008 to advocate and guide efforts to enhance, restore, and protect monarch habitats in order to sustain the migration of the butterflies.
Even backyard gardeners can make a difference. First, adopt non-chemical, organic gardening methods. Second, help conserve milkweed habitats and nectar plants wherever possible. Third, plant monarch way stations comprising milkweed and nectar plants that are native to the area and add perennials that attract pollinators and birds. Finally, a birdbath, fountain or other water feature can benefit all wildlife.
Diane Olson Schmidt is the owner of LaceWing Gardening and Consulting Services, which promotes organic garden ing and creates and maintains monarch way stations and habitats that attract butterflies, birds, hummingbirds and pollinators. For more information, call 414-793-3652 or email LaceWing@nase.org.