If you're thinking of gardening this spring why not add some beautiful color that can also fly? There is a real need for people to plant milkweed, to help save an iconic North American species that is in big trouble.
The monarch butterfly has, according to the most recent estimates, lost over 90% of its population since the 1990s. That's around 970 million butterflies gone, and if nothing is done, we may never see another one.
A campaign is under way by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and they have teamed up with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation(NFWF) to try and get this situation under control. The problem is there is a bigger issue. It's a symptom of yet a larger problem.
The disappearance of the monarchs is part of a bigger problem. Many pollinators are seeing their habitats disappear as pesticides and herbicides exert their impact on the natural cycle of the environment.
Milkweed seems to be a partial solution. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) is going to spend $2 million to plant milkweed and other plants that are butterfly friendly. The plan is a road trip of sorts. They plan to follow the butterflies' migration path from Minnesota all the way to Mexico.
Here is where your garden can come in. Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed; their caterpillars only eat milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.), and monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs. You can ask your gardening store which type of milkweed is native to your area.
You can also choose native plants. Native plants will attract more native pollinators and can serve as larval host plants for some species of pollinators. Check field guides to find out which plants the larval stage of local butterflies eat. Contact your local or state native plant society -- they can be a huge help.
Pollinators are key to reproduction of wild plants in our landscape. Without them, existing populations of plants would decline, even if soil, air, nutrients, and other life-sustaining elements were available. Butterflies are not only beautiful, they also play an important role.