Saving the Monarch Butterflies

24 Aug

Excitement rules our home.   Our milkweed plantings were successful. We have monarch butterfly caterpillars munching on the leaves. And thousands of eggs deposited among our milkweeds. We are doing our part to save the Monarch butterflies.

We live in the path of the great Monarch migration. Each year millions of butterflies come through Kansas. When we see them, we celebrate. Our children, when they were young, would have such joy pointing to them and running to see the butterflies on our flowers.

Our concern started because we noticed fewer and fewer butterflies making their way through our property.   And then we watched a documentary on NOVA, “Journey of the Butterflies,” about the migration of the butterflies and how their natural habitat is diminishing. What could we do?

The docent at the Butterfly Farm in St. Maarten showing us a giant milkweed and a Monarch butterfly caterpillar. This got us started!

The docent at the Butterfly Farm in St. Maarten showing us a giant milkweed and a Monarch butterfly caterpillar. This got us started!

Then we went to a butterfly farm and conservation center on St. Maarten in the Caribbean. The tour guide/docent was very clear in his message. “PLANT Milkweed. This could save the butterflies.”

That spring when we returned home, we had a mission. Years ago we had milkweed growing. And we pulled it all out. Now we knew that was a wrong decision. We needed milkweed.

It was too late to start from seed. But we learned that the University of Kansas was selling milkweed in Lawrence. So I messaged my nephew, who was in school there, to please buy us some milkweed plants.

He arrived the next day with five plants, one of each variety being sold at the event to save the butterflies.

Planting the milkweed we got from the University of Kansas sale in 2014.

Planting the milkweed we got from the University of Kansas sale in 2014.

My husband cheerfully and carefully planted them.   But we made one error. We forgot to tell the gardener who weeded our gardens for us. A few days later we came home, and I said, “Oh, Donny must have been here.” My husband went running to the front. And then he started yelling, “He pulled out my milkweed. It is all gone!!!”

But it wasn’t all gone. There was still one plant. But it was not enough. We never had any caterpillars last year.

This year was different. My husband ordered 2,500 seeds on line. Yes, I said 2,500 milkweed seeds of five different varieties. I agree, a little over kill. I bought him seedling planters with 100 individual biodegradable cups. He planted over 200 seeds. And he waited. Soon they were sprouting.

100s of milkweed seedlings watched over by our kitten.

100s of milkweed seedlings watched over by our kitten.

First we kept them on our kitchen table in the sunlight. But our kitten was a bit too interested in them. So we moved them to a bright spot where the kitten could not get to them.

Over 100 seedlings survived. My husband pulled some out so that there was only one plant in each cup.   And eventually he had 50 good plants to put into the ground. It was not easy to keep them alive. The animals loved to eat them, especially the bunnies. And the squirrels kept digging them up. He put the plants in our flower boxes with wire screens above them.   Slowly he planted the surviving milkweed in the ground. He put up wire screens around his milkweed plantsto keep them safe.

He also gave seeds away to our neighbors so they also could plant milkweed. His aim was sincere. Everyone should plant milkweed!

Slowly the plants grew all summer. They did not flower, something was eating the flowers. And now the mature plants started to look badly. Something was eating his milkweed.

He went out to investigate. And came back with a big smile on his face.

Two of the four Monarch butterfly caterpillars eating our milkweed. Seen the wire screening we used to protect them in the background.

Two of the four Monarch butterfly caterpillars eating our milkweed. Seen the wire screening we used to protect them in the background.

Four caterpillars were eating the largest of our milkweed. We had done it! We had done a wonderful good deed! We had provided a home for the Monarch butterflies. Excitement and joy!

I expect next year we will have many more surviving milkweed plants and many more caterpillars because now we are experienced in the ways of saving the Monarch butterfly!

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/journey-butterflies

http://www.journeynorth.org/

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4 Responses to “Saving the Monarch Butterflies”

  1. Robin August 26, 2015 at 9:14 am #

    My colleague and I used to go up to Roscoe, NY every August to harvest milkweed and monarch caterpillars that we would raise and release with our students. There was a patch of milkweed near Rt. 17 on a median that we were very successful with. One year, it was mowed down. We were not successful finding larvae in the area again and stopped going. We have ordered larvae from a company to raise, but it was difficult finding milkweed to sustain them in our area of NJ. When we did find some, it seemed to be too close to the road and I think we were not successful because of the pollution. Have not seen any monarchs yet this season stopping by my butterfly bush, but I will keep looking…We usually see a few each season. They are beautiful and need to be preserved as a species.My students and I follow the migration through http://www.journeynorth.org.

    • zicharon August 26, 2015 at 9:22 am #

      We have already seen them flying through our area. I am hoping that more lay eggs on our milkweed. Thank you for the link. I will add it to the blog!

  2. terarowe September 5, 2015 at 6:09 pm #

    We have recently bought our first house and top of our things to do in the spring list is plant milkweed! I also want to plant other butterfly and bee attracting flowers.

    • zicharon September 14, 2015 at 2:13 pm #

      That’s wonderful! Make sure that you do not let any pesticide company spray your lawn!!!

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