Seen more monarch butterflies lately?
It seems so. Their sad saga is well known–a population collapse of over 90% in a few short years as the milkweed plant they depend upon is wiped out by Roundup herbicide. But citizens, land trusts, and even states have responded with ‘pollinator pathways’–gardens, roadsides, and parks planted with milkweed and other natives. At Old Field Preserve in Lewisboro, we saw over a dozen colorful monarchs in a sea of milkweed, goldenrod, and asters that had until recently been nothing but invasive shrubs. We counted 16 monarch caterpillars on a single orange milkweed in our garden.
Wishful thinking? Perhaps not. The monarch may follow the remarkable recovery of the coontie hairstreak butterfly. Famed wildlife ecologist Doug Tallamy told us, at a Lewisboro Land Trust lecture, that the coontie hairstreak was considered extinct until recently. This Florida native is wholly dependent on the coontie plant, a plant that nearly disappeared due to over-harvesting. But in 1979, a lone butterfly colony was found on an island off Miami.
Coincidentally, real estate developers there were being encouraged to landscape with native plants, one of which was the coontie. The plant came back, the butterfly came back. It can happen if we give nature a chance.
Common milkweeds are nice, but orange, swamp, and purple milkweed are even better with fantastic flowers that last a good part of the summer. Collect or buy the seeds now, sprout them in damp paper towels, place in baggies in springtime and wait for the monarch show.
Author: Jim Nordgren