We hear about and see images of the amazing migration of millions of monarch butterflies from the United States and Canada to southern California and Mexico. We also hear that the number of monarchs in these migrations is declining drastically, partly as a result of habitat loss in the monarch breeding areas here in North America. Land development in the U.S. is consuming 6,000 acres of wildlife habitat per day! Since Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed plants, 90% of which grow in agricultural areas, monarchs in particular are affected. The widespread use of chemical herbicides in agriculture and the related increase in genetically modified crops result in even more milkweed loss.
In addition to milkweed plants, monarchs require nectar from flowers for nourishment. Without nectar, the butterflies are deprived of the energy needed for reproduction and then for completing their journeys to their overwintering areas in the south. This need for host plants for larva and energy sources for adults is shared by all butterflies.
An organization called MonarchWatch is a comprehensive source of information about monarchs. One of their efforts, Monarch Waystations, focuses on creating, conserving, and protecting monarch habitats. These are natural spaces that provide the resources the butterflies need for both reproduction and nourishment. MonarchWatch encourages the development of such habitats in small home and school gardens as well as in areas as large as parks and nature centers.
A mere 100 square feet of garden space (a plot 10 feet by 10 feet, for example) is enough for an effective monarch habitat. The total area can be split among several sites on a property. Because both butterflies and their preferred plants are sun-loving, the locations should have at least six hours of sun daily. The plant population needs to include both milkweed plants – preferably at least two different varieties – as well as at least four nectar plants. These plants should be close enough together to provide shelter from weather and predators, and the area needs to be pesticide-free. Ongoing maintenance of these areas is then required to sustain the habitat.
Once your butterfly garden is ready for these beautiful guests, you can have your site certified by MonarchWatch as a Monarch Waystation. What a great effect we View readers could have on not only butterflies, but also bee populations, if we embrace this effort and create butterfly havens in our landscapes. And by sharing information and displaying certification documents, we can encourage our neighbors to join in the effort.
SOURCES AND RESOURCES
“Monarch Waystation Program,” http://monarchwatch.org/waystations/
“Monarch Waystation Certification Requirements,”www.MonarchWatch.org/waystations/waystation_requirements.pdf
“Creating a Monarch Waystation,” www.MonarchWatch.org/waystations/waystation_guide.pdf