How To Attract Monarch Butterflies
Monarch butterflies are one of the world's most beautiful and beloved insects, but in recent years they have come under threat from pesticides and habitat destruction in both their summer homes in the United States and Canada and their wintering grounds in Mexico. In 2012, Mexican scientists reported record low numbers of butterflies made it to their traditional overwintering grounds in the forests of Central Mexico. So far, 2013 appears to be destined for an even lower number.
One way to help save the monarch butterfly is to plant flowers and other plants that attract them. By providing both adult butterflies and caterpillars with food and shelter, you can help increase their numbers.
The most important plants for monarch butterflies are milkweeds (Asclepias sp.). Milkweeds are the only plants that monarch caterpillars can live on and they are therefore vital for maintaining a healthy population of monarch butterflies. Milkweed plants also provide an important nectar source for adult monarchs and many other butterfly species.
Fortunately, milkweeds are attractive and easy to grow. There are milkweed species native to every state in the continental United States and the southern Canadian provinces.
The most popular milkweeds native to North America include:
- Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
- Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)
- Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
- Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Butterflies aren't the only reason to take a second look at milkweeds. They have been receiving a lot of attention recently due to the extraordinary qualities of milkweed floss.
More Butterfly Gardening Tips
Nectar sources for adult monarch butterflies are also important, especially as they begin their long journey south.
Monarchs tend to prefer native wildflowers, but the
adults are not as picky as the caterpillars, and some non-native species
are popular as well.
Some excellent nectar plants for monarchs include:
- Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
- Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)
- Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
- Aster (Asteraceae sp.)
- Bee Balm/Bergamot (Monarda sp.)
- Blazingstar/Gayfeather (Liatris sp.)
- Cosmos (Cosmos sp.)
- Zinnias (Zinnia sp.)
- Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii)
Monarchs like to roost in
trees at night and during rainstorms and other bad weather. Most mature
trees will do for this purpose, including both deciduous and conifer
Protecting Monarchs From Pesticides
to attract monarch butterflies to your yard, it is very important that
you switch to organic gardening methods completely, or as much as
possible. Monarchs are highly susceptible to most pesticides and
If you live next to neighbors or farmers who spray regularly, you can help protect your butterfly population from pesticide drift by planting a hedgerow of trees, shrubs, grasses, and perennials on the side of your garden bordering these properties, and encouraging your neighbors to follow proper precautions to reduce pesticide drift.
Certify Your Yard
The University of Kansas's Monarch Watch program now offers backyard certification as an official Monarch Waystation! Visit the site to download an official guide to creating a monarch waystation, purchase seed packs, and more.