Each year hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies migrate from eastern North America all the way to the Transvolcanic Range of central Mexico. As land development continues to consume roughly 6,000 acres a day, the overuse of herbicides along roadsides and grass-filled landscapes has led to a swift decline in monarch habitat, resulting in a decline in the monarch population.
Because of their long migratory pattern, monarch butterflies reflect the health of America’s landscape, crossing several states on their trans-continental journey. Connected to the pollination cycle, the decline of monarchs reflects similar environmental problems that pose a risk to food production and the overall health of the human population. Conserving monarch habitats that provide shelter and water as well as planting food sources such as milkweeds on a colossal scale benefits not only monarchs but many other plants and animals including critical insect and avian pollinators.
An increasing trend to combat this decline is to create Monarch Waystations—places that provide resources for migrating monarchs. One such organization investing in this practice is Monarch Watch. Based out of the University of Kansas, Monarch Watch has helped certify over 5,000 Monarch Waystations and initiated a nationwide landscape restoration program called “Bring Back The Monarchs”.
While striving to provide the public with information about the biology of monarch butterflies, their extravagant migration, and how monarchs can be used to further science education, the group also promotes Monarch Waystations by acting as a source for free Milkweed plants. By supporting the development of waystations, their goal is to restore 20 milkweed species used by monarch caterpillars as food.
Swamp Milkweed (l) photo by Marcus, Joseph A. and Whorled Milkweed (r) photo by Smith, R.W.
This summer, Monarch Watch awarded 400 free Milkweed plants to The Parklands of Floyds Fork on the condition we pay the modest shipping cost as well as design and maintain a plan for a large scale planting project. We were given two particular types of Milkweeds – 200 Swamp Milkweeds (Asclepias incarnate) and 200 Whorled Milkweeds (Asclepias verticillata). Both species are proven to thrive in our designated Eco-region (Eastern Broadleaf Forest Province) and Plant Hardiness Zone (6b).
Upon receiving our shipment of milkweed plants, they were fertilized and maintained for an additional month, allowing them to fully recover from the shipping process and ensuring we would be planting healthy, robust milkweeds. The fields of the Osage Orange Explorer Trail in Beckley Creek Park and Prairie Preserve in Pope Lick Park provided ideal habitat where existing plant species, such as asters and goldenrod, provide nectar sources for adult butterflies.
With the help of volunteers, each species was planted in clusters of three with roughly twelve clusters per acre – following the standard recommended by Monarch Watch. The plants are a valuable addition to what is already a richly, diverse landscape. It is our hope that the large scale planting will be a benefit to migrating butterflies and many other pollinating species.
About Monarch Watch:
Started in the fall of 1992 by Chip Taylor, Monarch Watch is one of the longest surviving outreach programs in existence – focusing its efforts on education, research, and conservation of monarchs. Monarch Watch has successfully operated for years thanks to grants and funding from companies like Monsanto who has donated $400,000 to support experts working to benefit monarch butterflies. While having a history of controversy in the agricultural market, president and chief operating officer Brett Begemann was quoted as saying, “While weed management has been a factor in the decline of milkweed habitat, the agricultural sector can absolutely be a part of the solution in restoring it”. Using financial support from Monsanto, each year 100,000 Milkweed plugs are grown and shipped to recipients who are awarded the grant. For more information about Monarch Watch visit www.monarchwatch.org.
Additional blog posts about Monarch Butterflies by Parklands staff:
October 4, 2013 Blog Post by Kim Allgeier – FALL MEANS MONARCH BUTTERFLY MIGRATION
June 16, 2015 Blog Post by Ali Greenwell – PARKLANDS VOLUNTEER LEADS TEAM TO SUPPORT MONARCH LARVA MONITORING PROJECTStory and photo by Nathan Strange, Zone Gardener Nathan joined The Parklands staff in 2014 as a Gardener and currently oversees the areas around the Egg Lawn, the Pollination Garden at PNC Achievement Center/Gheens Foundation Lodge, and manages the collection and propagation of native plants within the park. While attending University of Kentucky for a degree in Natural Resource Conservation & Management, Nathan worked as a naturalist at Natural Bridge State Resort Park and as a field technician for Floracliff Nature Sanctuary – specializing in program development, native plant alternatives, and invasive species removal. In 2011, Nathan published “A Guide to the Knobstone Trail: Indiana’s Longest Footpath” with Indiana University Press – representing three years of independent research while highlighting his love for hiking and the outdoors.