An article in The New York Times yesterday entitled Monarch Migration Plunges To Lowest Level in Decades by Michael Wines leaves me saddened and disappointed. Though the article mentioned that it’s “due mostly to extreme weather and a change in farming practices in North America.” It doesn’t matter whether it is caused by the weather or farming practice, we can help slow the pace of extinction. With the extreme weather, we may not be able to do much as individuals aside from trying not to leave too large a daily carbon footprint. Maybe the planet will warm up a little bit more slowly. But do we really need to get rid of every single Milkweed in America’s conventional farming area? Do we need to genetically modify our vegetables to have resistance to herbicide so we can keep spraying chemical over the whole area to get rid of the weeds?
It takes the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) two generations for their trip from Mexico to the Northern US and Canada, and one generation to fly back. They need a place to lay their eggs and food for their caterpillars; that’s where the Milkweed (Asclepias syiaca) comes in. Monarch caterpillars feed mainly on Milkweed. Without it, there will not be much chance for the next generation. Please let some Milkweed grow in your garden so we can actually show future generations how beautiful the Monarch butterfly is and how great their annual migration is. Years from now, I hope that we will still be able to see actual Monarch butterflies in gardens and meadows, not just in old nature documentaries and where a narrator says ‘….Once upon a time there were plenty of orange and black butterflies called Monarchs…’
We have always had Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) in the garden. It’s an official sign of summer when we see them in our garden. They travel up from Mexico, their winter gathering place, every year. It takes them two generations for their trip up north, but only one generation flying back.
I’ve learned that their population is in decline since we humans have been eliminating their caterpillar favorite food source – Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). Industrial farming indiscriminatingly kills all the weeds along their flight path. I know Milkweed is very invasive and poisonous if you eat it raw. The milky sap that oozes out of a cut on one will make you itch if it get on your skin. However, I’m not ready to see the Monarch butterflies pushed toward extinction.
I don’t know how the first Milkweed got in to our garden, but I had tried to get rid of them too. Not much of a success; they keep coming up every spring wherever the roots have spread. Once I learned that the well being of the Monarch population depends on this weed, I changed to digging them up and replanting them along our property. This year is the third year I have been doing that.
The Monarchs have shown their appreciation for the first time this summer. They mate in the garden. I guess they have learned that they can depend on our garden for the survival of their young. Since I saw them mating, I’ve been checking the Milkweed every couple of days. Finally, they made me really happy today. I found two caterpillars with bright yellow, white and black stripes munching on the Milkweed. Just the sight of them made today a perfect day!