Did you know that monarch butterflies are in danger? According to a recent article by The Guardian, the California monarch population has declined to a mere 29,000 butterlies, instead of their original, massive numbers of 4.5 million in the 1980s.
The reason? Native habitat destruction. That is, no more milkweed.
In the fall of 2018, my mom and I were visiting Myrtle Creek Botanical Gardens and Nursery. It is one of our favorite places to visit and shop together. We both share a love of plants and gardening. Myrtle Creek has hundreds of beautiful perennials and annuals, plus a farm-to-table restaurant and gardens to enjoy your food in.
That day, I came across a milkweed sale and asked the clerk about the plants. He said they were only plant that the monarch butterflies can eat and lay their eggs on; that monarch butterflies were critically endangered and planting milkweed can help them. I was sold! I bought two Silky Gold Tropical milkweed plants that year and tumbled down a rabbit-hole to helping the monarchs as one of my most passionate hobbies.
Today, I have 8 milkweed plants, of all varying kinds, and I am always trying to seed and grow more. The tropical varieties are the most reliable, but they are a non-native plant and must be cut back each fall since they do not normally fall into dormancy like the native varieties, such as Narrowleaf and Showy milkweed. This is important in controlling a virus called "Ophryocystis elektroscirrha" (or OE for short) that mother monarchs can carry to their eggs and other monarch caterpillars. It is a very tragic virus that leads to malformed wings when the monarch emerge from their chrysalises and they can never recover from it.
I have mostly tropical varieties that I manage very carefully, plus Narrowleaf and Showy milkweed. Soon, I plan on applying to become a Monarch Waystation! I'm slowly adding to my pollinator-friendly trees and shrubs to accomplish this.
My Dog, Ginger, Helping Me Buy More Milkweed
I have four specific varieties of milkweed in my garden:
First Photo: Mexican Milkweed, Second Photo: Silky Gold Milkweed
I also have seeds for, and sorry if this sounds crass, Hairy Balls Milkweed (Gymnocarpus physocarpa) and California Milkweed (Asclepias californica). Yes, it is really called "Hairy Balls Milkweed!" I have heard both are hard to grow, so I am putting it off until I can research a little more about how to start these varieties.
The best way to help monarchs is to plant native milkweed in our yards and gardens. While I tend to go a little overboard and have actually raised over 100 monarchs (that is another web page though!) the easiest thing to do is simply provide a place for monarch mamas to lay their eggs. This way, the next generation of butterflies can be born!
All photos are my own!