The migration of the monarch butterfly from Canada to Mexico continues to be a phenomenon that scientists do not fully understand. However even the local urban gardener can assist the monarch butterfly in its journey by providing plants that are beneficial and necessary for their survival.
Most gardeners establish a butterfly garden by planting brightly colored flowers that sway in the breeze to attract the butterfly. Some favorite monarch friendly flowers are lantana, purple coneflower (Echinacea), phlox, yellow cosmos, plains coreopsis, zinnias, saliva and verbena. These flowers provide nectar as a food source for the butterfly. In order to reproduce, however, the monarch butterfly requires milkweed, also known as butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), for the female to deposit her eggs on and for the larva to eat. Actually, plants in the milkweed family are the only plants the monarch larva will feed on.
Butterfly weed can be propagated from seeds, taking up to 2 years to establish, or by purchasing a plant from the nursery. Butterfly weed produces an abundance of fiery red-orange flowers in late spring followed by decorative green seed pods. It is drought tolerant, growing in full sun to 24″ tall. It is important to note that most parts of butterfly weed are toxic and should be kept away from children and pets.
You can be a beneficial part in the eco cycle of the magnificent monarch butterfly’s journey of life. Make plans to establish a host habitat to facilitate the monarch’s reproduction and feeding needs, and then take time to enjoy this amazing creation.
Jane Toller, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service