Weed Appreciation Day, March 28—is on its way—and so are those amazing monarch butterflies! It’s the perfect time of year to plant milkweed to ensure the survival of these endangered butterflies as they embark on the journey north from wintering grounds in Mexico. My limerick tells a bit about the monarchs’ dependence upon milkweed. The photo of his female monarch (Danaus plexippus) on a milkweed plant (Asclepias syriaca) was taken in my garden in Central Maine, where milkweed plants flourish and monarchs can find the perfect leaves to lay their eggs under each summer. Read on to find out more about milkweed and the crucial relationship this native plant shares with monarchs and how you can help these endangered butterflies by planting milkweed in your own backyard.
Why Do Monarch Butterflies Need Milkweed?
- Milkweed is the host plant for monarch butterflies. Monarchs have a dynamic relationship with plants in the milkweed family and are completely dependent on them for reproduction. Butterflies are the reproductive phase of their life cycle. Females lay their eggs on the undersides of milkweed leaves because when the eggs hatch and the caterpillars emerge, their only source of food is the foliage of milkweed plants. The growing caterpillars feed on the leaves until they are ready to form a chrysalis and metamorphose into adult butterflies.
Mating of monarch butterflies has begun and the orange and black butterflies are flying north. Along the way, females will lay eggs on milkweed plants, recolonizing the southern United States before they die. The first spring caterpillars will hatch and metamorphose into adults. These newly emerged monarchs colonize their parents original homes. Summer monarchs live only three to five weeks compared with the eight or nine months for overwintering adults. During the summer, three or four generations of monarch butterflies will emerge, and before summer ends there will be millions of monarchs all over the United States and southern Canada.
You can play an important role in the survival of monarch butterflies by planting the correct native variety of milkweed in your yard or garden. Learn how to create a Monarch Waystation in your own backyard and report your monarch sightings too. Helping our monarch butterflies is a great service project for families, community groups and schools. Contact Monarch Watch (an educational outreach based at the University of Kansas): www.monarchwatch.org
About the author
Inspired by nature and human nature, author Bette A. Stevens is a retired elementary and middle school teacher, a wife, mother of two and grandmother of five. Stevens lives in Central Maine with her husband on their 37-acre farmstead where she enjoys reading, writing, gardening, walking and reveling in the beauty of nature. She advocates for children and families, for childhood literacy and for the conservation of monarch butterflies—an endangered species (and for milkweed, the only plant that monarch caterpillars will eat).
Stevens is the author of AMAZING MATILDA, an award-winning picture book adventure that follows the life cycle of a monarch butterfly; The Tangram Zoo and Word Puzzles Too!, a home/school resource incorporating hands-on math and writing; and PURE TRASH, the short story prequel to her début novel, DOG BONE SOUP—coming-of-age story and family drama set in 1950s and 60s New England.
- Find out more about the author and her books at http://viewauthor.at/BetteAStevens