Plight of the Monarch

Monarch butterfly in the garden in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Monarch butterfly snacking on native eupatorium (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Not a week has gone by that I haven’t read something about the devastating decline of the monarch butterfly.  At their peak in the mid 1990’s, the monarch’s overwintering population covered an estimated 45 acres of forest throughout central Mexico. According to the World Wildlife Fund, this winter’s total shrank to a below 2 acres, setting another record low.  Yet the life of our revered monarch has always been shrouded in mystery; despite decades of scientific studies, we still don’t fully understand how it migrates to the same location each year.

Milkweed in the ornamental garden in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Milkweed in the ornamental garden (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus, are known for their long distance migration, sometimes traveling up to 2,500 on their route from Canada to Mexico.  Although the number has declined rapidly over the last decade, up to a billion (or more) monarchs once made this arduous journey.  In 2008, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), published the North American Monarch Conservation Plan, which identified a series of factors that directly contributed to the significant loss of monarch butterflies.  Essentially, the destruction of overwintering sites from deforestation and development, along with a substantial increase of pesticide usage, has resulted in a severe depletion of native milkweed meadows which sustain the monarch population.  Read more about the Marvelous Milkweed

Common Milkweed growing wild in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Common Milkweed growing wild in my yard (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Simply put, our native milkweed is the single food source for monarch larvae, and monarchs can’t survive without it.  Female monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed, and once hatched they grow into caterpillars that feed on the poisonous milkweed leaves, which in turn protects them from predators.  Sadly, this life sustaining plant is being eradicated in unprecedented proportions across the monarch’s migratory path; with estimates of over 20 million acres converted to farm crops or decimated from herbicides.  And, without a reliable chain of milkweed for the monarch to feed on during its flight, the future will become even bleaker for the butterfly.

Aclepias 'Cinderella' dazzles in the garden in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Aclepias ‘Cinderella’ dazzles in the garden (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

So, what is being done to save our monarch friends? And how can we help?  Feed them and they will come. With over 70 varieties that thrive throughout the world, our native milkweed is a beautiful plant that can be easily grown under a wide range of conditions from wet and sunny to dry and partial shade.  Following are a few commonly seen native milkweeds: the delicate white, clasping milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis), the taller, light pink swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata ),

Bright yellow Tropical milkweed in A GardenFor All by Kathy Diemer

Bright yellow Tropical milkweed (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

the rosy-pink purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens), the bright orange and yellow butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) and the darker mauve common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).  If milkweed is growing on your property, please avoid cutting or mowing it.  If you would like to try incorporating some into your garden, visit your local garden center to see what they have available.   

Annual Asclepias curassavica in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Annual Asclepias curassavica (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Together we CAN make a difference.  For more information on growing milkweed and helping our monarch population, please visit:

The Monarch Waystation Program (Over 7,500 stations already in existence!)

The Xerces Organization: 


  1. I had No idea we were killing off the Monarchs… I will gladly plant these on my farm!

  2. ann price says

    Bravo, Kathy, for bringing attention to the plight of the Monarchs. One more very
    important reason to NOT manicure every bit of our properties. I’m going to take
    your good suggestion and plant some asclepias this spring.

    • Thank you Ann! And you’re 100% correct in mentioning that we should leave a portion of our properties un-manicured. I have left areas alone that are now abundant with native flowers such as goldenrod, aster and ironweed. The only thing I do in these areas is to hand weed out invasives such as garlic mustard and purple loosestrife. As a result, I have oodles of bees and butterflies stopping by for a snack. It’s wonderful!

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