| This page is dedicated to the education
and conservation of Monarch butterflies. Here you will find information
on the present status of the Monarch population, learn the reasons for the
dwindling number of Monarchs, and find out what you can do to help
increase their numbers. You'll learn about the life cycle of a monarch and
come to understand why milkweed is so important in Monarch conservation.
Gardening-oriented businesses and organizations can also, on this page, order our beautiful, informative 'Save the Monarch' brochures for distribution to customers or members, or maybe to be used as a handout at special events your business or organization may be hosting or attending. The brochures, too, are geared toward Monarch education and conservation.
|The graph to the left
shows data for 1994-2003 collected
by personnel of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR) of the
National Commission of Natural Protected Areas in Mexico.
Data for 2003-2013 was collected by World Wildlife Fund Mexico in coordination with the Dicectorate of the MBBR.
Franklin, February 28, 2014
the winter of 1993-1994, scientists have been traveling to Michoacan,
Mexico, every winter to monitor the size of the area that is occupied by
over-wintering Monarch butterflies. This information is used to provide
data on the status of the butterfly population, and might even be an
indicator of the status of pollinator insects in general.
During the past two years, the Monarch population has plummeted to alarmingly low numbers. There is reason for concern.
What has caused the Monarch population to decline? The consensus among scientists is that there may many factors at play. Among them are (1) the destruction of natural habitat, (2) the increased use of insecticides, (3) the increased use of herbicides, and (4) climate change.
Approximately 6,000 acres per
day, 2.2 million acres per year, of farmland and natural habitat is being
converted to housing developments, resorts, shopping centers, gulf
courses, and highways. Natural prairies and grasslands are being plowed
under to grow more corn and soybeans, two agricultural crops that have
skyrocketed in price over the last decade or so.
Almost all of the corn and
soybeans being planted today are herbicide-resistant varieties. Farmers
can plant the seed without having to till the soil, and then spray the
fields with herbicides to control the weeds. The herbicides kill the weeds
(including milkweed, which Monarchs must have to lay their eggs on) but do
not harm the corn and soybean plants. No one knows how many milkweed
plants have been killed by the application of herbicides, but likely,
millions have been poisoned in the past 10 years or so.
Entomologists who focus their study on the Monarch feel certain the
disappearance of milkweed from U.S. agricultural grounds, where it once
grew in abundance, is the number one reason for the dwindling number of
Entomologists who focus their study on the Monarch feel certain the disappearance of milkweed from U.S. agricultural grounds, where it once grew in abundance, is the number one reason for the dwindling number of Monarchs.
The widespread use of
insecticides to control mosquito and gypsy moth populations might likely
be contributing to the disappearance of butterflies too.
Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is often aerial-sprayed over forests,
wetlands, and near housing developments to kill the insect pests that must
be kept under control. But Bt is a notorious caterpillar killer! And while
butterflies were not the intended target of the spraying, I am pretty sure
that millions of butterfly larvae have been wiped out by Bt.
Climate change is another
factor that scientists often note as having an impact on the butterfly
population. The average temperature is increasing, droughts are becoming
more common, and storms are growing stronger. Along with these weather
events causing stress for humans, they are hard on the butterfly
Are insecticides killing the
butterflies? Are herbicides poisoning the milkweeds that Monarchs must
have in order for reproduction to occur? Are warmer summers, heavy rains,
violent wind storms, and/or droughts taking their toll? No one knows for
sure which of these factors has had the most devastating consequences for
the Monarch population, but one or more of these is assuredly causing the
Monarch populace to plummet.
The honey bee population
appears to be in serious trouble too. I wonder if itís not the same
variables causing both the Monarch and honey bee populations to sharply
drop in number. And if, by chance, that is
the case, weíd better wake up. Without pollinators, the human race could
not exist. We need these insects to pollinate our food crops.
2014-2015 Winter Update: The over-wintering Monarch population in
Mexico increased to cover 1.13 hectars (2.79 acres). While this is welcome
news, the Monarch numbers remain very low.
2016-2017 Winter Update: Here's the latest graph:
|What we can do to help increase the Monarch
Plant milkweed for them to lay eggs on. One of the milkweeds they highly favor for egg-laying
is Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), a South American
native that must be treated as an annual in most of the U.S. In September
and October, Tropical Milkweed provides nectar for the Monarchs that are
migrating to Mexico.
Plant nectar plants for the adult Monarchs to feed on.
Butterfly bushes (Buddleia
davidii), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea
purpurea), Meadow Blazing Star (Liatris
ligulistylis), Milkweed (Asclepias), and Zinnia are among their favorite nectar sources.
Refrain from using insecticides and herbicides on your
property. Remember, butterflies are insects that might be harmed by
the insecticides you use, and herbicides might kill plants that are vital
to butterfly survival and
Work to protect natural Monarch habitats (areas containing milkweed and wildflowers that can be
utilized for nectaring) from being disturbed or forever destroyed.
Donate to Monarch Watch or
another organization dedicated to the conservation, education, and
research of Monarch butterflies.
|The Life Cycle of a Monarch Butterfly
Eggs are laid on
milkweed plants by female Monarchs. They are generally deposited singly on
the undersides of leaves. A Monarch caterpillar hatches from the egg 5 to
7 days after it is laid. It is so tiny it can barely be seen, but just 10
to 14 days after hatching, it is fully grown, about 2
3/8Ē long. It
has grown (and become distasteful to birds) by feeding on a strict diet of
The Monarch Migration
Some Monarchs are permanent residents to Florida and California. Most,
those that are summer residents east of the Rocky Mountains, migrate to central Mexico for the winter. There, high in the
oyamel fir forests west of Mexico City, Monarchs are protected from
freezing temperatures from November through late February. In late
February, the butterflies mate and then begin the journey north. Milkweed
plants are now in growth mode in Texas, so this is where they will enter
the U.S. to begin the northward pilgrimage.
|'Save the Monarch'
I, Rose Franklin, created the 'Save the Monarch' brochure to educate
the public on the obstacles facing the Monarch and urge readers to assist
the Monarch in its struggle to multiply.
There is space on the back panel of the brochure for your company name,
address, web site address, phone number, etc.
|100 for $35.00 35cents each||200 for $60.00 30 cents each||300 for $67.50 25 cents each|
Milkweed for the Monarchs?
by Rose Franklin, January 19, 2015
Americans are worried about the current status of the
Monarch butterfly population, and they should be. Monarch numbers have
dramatically declined in the past ten years or so. Some entomologists even
wonder if the spectacular annual migration to and from Mexico might one
day cease to exist. The over-wintering population in Mexico last winter,
2013-2014, was the smallest ever recorded, about 10% of the 20-year
Monarch enthusiasts, knowing that Monarchs must have
access to milkweed if the population is to increase, are opting to plant
milkweed instead of petunias, impatiens, geraniums, and marigolds. But
they are confused about which milkweed species they should plant. Some
gardeners are told they should only plant the milkweed species that are
native to their area while others hear that almost any milkweed, including
those that grow in the tropic jungles of the world, like Tropical Milkweed
(Asclepias curassavica), are suitable hosts for the Monarch.
It was scientists who first began to oppose the planting of Tropical Milkweed. They claimed that because this milkweed species grows year around in some parts of the U.S, it might disrupt the Monarchís migratory cues in autumn and facilitate in the creation of a large population that does not migrate but, instead, resides year around where Tropical Milkweed grows year around. And there, where it is not killed off annually by autumn frosts (southern Florida and along the coastal region of the Gulf of Mexico), Tropical Milkweed surely harbors pathogens and facilitates in the increased transmission of disease (especially Oe, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha). Researchers even know that there are, and have been for a number of years, a few small Monarch populations residing year around, and breeding year around, in isolated locations along the Gulf coast.
likely serves several purposes in the well-being of Monarchs. It compels
the Monarch to abandon habitat which might be contaminated with pathogens.
The long-distance migration also serves to weed out the individuals that
are weak and diseased, so that only the healthiest of the population is
left to produce offspring the following year.
migration is assuredly advantageous to the health of the Monarch
population, I am not comfortable in knowing that even a tiny fragment of
the Monarch population has become non-migratory and now breeds year around
in a few locations along the southern coast of the U.S. In those areas
where Tropical Milkweed does not die in winter, I urge people to refrain
from planting it. If it is already planted, I suggest the
Tropical Milkweed plants be cut to the ground in autumn and all the debris
discarded, thus eliminating the
possibility of Monarchs reproducing year around on foliage which might be
contaminated with disease. If those residents along the Gulf coast are unwilling or
unable to cut their plants to the ground every fall, I advise them to spray
their Tropical Milkweed with Roundup, repeatedly until it is completely gone. I donít
generally advocate the use of Roundup, but in this case, I will tolerate
its use so that the Monarch will be able to multiply in healthy, disease-free
OK. I agree that in the 3% of the nation where
Tropical Milkweed grows year around, it could, and most likely does,
harbor and spread disease among the small Monarch population that has
chosen to reside and breed there year around. But, as
stated above, this could be prevented if people would cut their Tropical
Milkweed plants to the ground every fall. In the other 97% of the U.S.
though, I think Tropical Milkweed might well be of benefit to the Monarch,
especially at this point in time, when Monarch numbers are swiftly
dwindling (though, in my opinion, maybe not any faster than other
butterfly species are dwindling in number).
I do not believe that Monarchs migrating from eastern
Canada or the northeastern states of the U.S to Mexico could be persuaded
to stay in Pennsylvania or Virginia because they encounter a large stand
of Tropical Milkweed growing in a garden. I simply do not believe that.
Eastern Monarchs are genetically programmed to make the annual migration
to the over-wintering sites in the high-altitude oyamel fir forests in the
trans-volcanic mountains of central Mexico. Northeastern Monarchs emerging
from pupae between late August and mid-September are in reproductive
diapause and thus, not capable of mating and laying eggs. Probably in
response to shorter day length, cooler autumn temperatures, and/or the
orientation of the sun, they emerge from their pupae, feed on nectar to
store sugar in their bodies, and then automatically begin their long
I have been an avid butterfly gardener for twenty
years, and I have grown many species of milkweed in my gardens in central
Pennsylvania. My advice, at this particular point in time, is to plant
whatever milkweed species will aid the Monarch in its quest to survive and
Several years ago, I might have agreed with those who
advocate the planting of natives only. Today though, with the Monarch
numbers at an all-time low, I advocate that we plant whichever milkweed
species Monarchs will readily lay eggs on, and/or whatever milkweed
species Monarch caterpillars will readily feed on.
Having had many milkweed species our my yard over the
past two decades, my husband and I have seen that, consistently from one
year to the next, female Monarchs lay more eggs on Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) than they do on any other milkweed species.
Annually, we find 200 or more Monarch caterpillars on the hundreds of
milkweed plants growing on our property. At least 70% of those are found
feeding on the Tropical Milkweed, not the Pennsylvania native Common
Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca),
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata),
or Butterfly Weed (Asclepias
Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias
curassavica), also known as Bloodflower, grows 36Ē to 48Ē high,
generally blooms from mid-July through frost, and prefers full sun. It is
native to tropical South America, Mexico, Central America, and a few torrid islands of North
America and thus, must be treated as an annual
in most of the U.S. Tropical Milkweed produces clusters of tiny,
star-shaped flowers which might be yellow, yellow/orange, or red/orange
I have to assume that female Monarchs know what they
are doing in choosing Tropical Milkweed for the laying of their eggs. If
they intrinsically choose to lay eggs on Tropical Milkweed, even when a
number of native species are available to them, they must have innate
reasoning for doing so. Monarchs are genetically programmed to halt
reproduction in fall, inherently wired to make the annual migration to and
from Mexico, and I think, innately programmed to know which milkweed
species is best suited for their offspring to consume. Maybe Tropical
Milkweed is more nutritious than native milkweeds, maybe it has something
to do with the amount of cardenolides in it, which, once consumed by the
caterpillars, serve to make both the caterpillars and the adult
butterflies toxic to birds.
Andy, my husband, and I offer a huge buffet of
milkweeds to the Monarchs that visit our property during the summer
months. Having a choice of depositing eggs on the hundreds of Common
Milkweed, Swamp Milkweed, and Butterfly Weed which grow in our yard, along
with other milkweeds too, they overwhelming choose Tropical Milkweed. I
donít know why they choose it, and I donít care why. I only know that
Aside from advocating the planting of Tropical
Milkweed because female Monarchs prefer it for egg-laying, I promote it
for another reason also. Tropical Milkweed is highly utilized as a nectar
source by fall-migrating Monarchs. In October, when Monarchs are still
migrating through Pennsylvania and most flowering plants are far past
their prime, Tropical Milkweed is generally still green and, apparently,
still producing sweet-flavored nectar. On warm, sunny October days, from
late morning through mid-afternoon, our Tropical Milkweed patches are
adorned by the flutter of dozens of migrating Monarchs. They stop by,
nectar for just a while, and then continue on their way.
Monarchs are in crisis--and so long as they are, and unless someone convinces me that Tropical Milkweed is causing peril to the Monarch (other than in that 3% of the country where it does not freeze out over the winter), I will continue to promote the planting of Tropical Milkweed. I love the Monarch, and my wish is that its population rebounds to the number recorded in Mexico during the winter of 1996-1997, the year the Monarch count was the highest ever recorded.
Copyright © 2002-2019. [Rose Franklin's Perennials]. All rights reserved.
Revised: March 20, 2019