Save the monarch

Remember chasing the Monarch butterfly with its large orange and black wings when you were a kid?
Armed with butterfly nets and jars, we tried to capture our very own specimen from the then-readily available supply. Then we carted it off to school for “show and tell,” and felt quite proud of ourselves that we had such a colourful specimen.
However, our grandchildren may never see a Monarch butterfly. They are at risk.
The milkweed is the sole habitat of the Monarch butterfly, upon which they lay their eggs. In most provinces, the milkweed is labelled a noxious weed and so we strive to eradicate it without consideration of the Monarch.
Severe changes in weather, as well as the use of herbicides and insecticides, all threaten the Monarch. Genetically-modified crops allow the use of Round-up to control weeds instead of tilling, and this practice threatens the survival of the milkweed plant.
How can we help? Create a Monarch “waystation” for these amazing butterflies—a resting place and fuelling stop, and a place to lay their eggs.
There are almost 7,500 Monarch waystations across North America, with more than 300 in Canada.
A waystation has some simple requirements, one of which is to provide a butterfly garden with the Monarch’s favourite menu of Brown-eyed Susans, Joe Pye Weed, Coneflowers, and Sedum (to name a few), making sure the plants cover the entire season with blooms and nectar for the butterflies.
The Monarch butterfly’s migration to Mexico is an amazing feat. These butterflies have never made the migration before nor do they have relatives to follow, yet they know exactly where to go—often to the very same tree that previous generations roosted in.
The migration takes them eight-10 weeks to fly the 5,000 km from Nova Scotia to Mexico. They usually fly close to the ground but have been seen as high as 12,000 feet.
Monarchs usually live for a month, but the generation of Monarchs that migrate are able to lengthen their lives to nine months, which allows them to migrate, winter in Mexico, and then fly north to Texas to lay their eggs.
It is the third or fourth generation of Monarchs that arrives in Canada in mid-June.
Although Monarchs require habitat on their migration route, too, planting milkweed in your gardens does a great service to the threatened Monarch.
The common milkweed is considered invasive, but Monarchs also enjoy the beautiful Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), which prefers sandy loam, medium-dry soils, and the Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), which can tolerate full sun and all types of soils, preferring moisture.
Neither of these milkweed are invasive.
Creating a Monarch waystation doesn’t require a lot of land as even 100 square feet qualifies (though the site requires at least six hours of sunshine each day).
Planting milkweed and nectar plants close together also helps reduce the risk from predators (only one-in-100 Monarchs make it to maturity in the wild).
Some management of the site is required in terms of mulching and thinning, fertilizing, and eliminating the use of pesticides.
We can do our part to keep nature’s fine balance so that our grandchildren can chase after the Monarch butterfly the way we did.
For more information on the Monarch, visit www.speciesatrisk.gc.ca and www.monarchwatch.org
To create your own Monarch waystation, visit www.MonarchWatch.org/waystations
wendistewart@live.ca

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