Today is an exciting day in the Library of Curiosities household. Though the past Spring and Summer season I was on the hunt. Loaded up with muddy buckets, dirty shovels, and nitrile gloves (all leaving their dusty mark on the floorboard of trusty rusty adventure mobile), I set out on a mission of collection. Verbena, daises, blanket flower, oh my! But I still hadn’t found my crown jewel. Between scouring hillsides, hauling bags of cedar mulch, and evading mosquito bites, I was able to find what I was looking for: the treasured milkweed. Now, as summer has drawn to a close, I have finally built a garden worthy of recognition: a Monarch Waystation.
Established in 1992, MonarchWatch.org, a program organized through the University of Kansas, promotes Monarch butterfly preservation, provides habitat guidelines, and works to tell the story of their mighty migrations through yearly tagging and calendar programs. In addition to educating the public about the importance of these delicate pollinators, the team at MonarchWatch.org also organizes free milkweed giveaways for preservation efforts, and sets guidelines for sustainable butterfly gardening. For those dedicated gardeners and activists, MonarchWatch.org has created the Monarch Waystation program. By sticking to a plant list, and following sustainable management practices, any site can be registered as a waystation. And, as of September 23rd, 2019, there were over 26,500 waystations registered in the program.
—- Learn more about how you can create a Monarch Butterfly Waystation, by clicking here!
So what’s the big deal with Monarch Butterflies? Beyond being known for their bright orange colors, the Monarch is primarily known for it’s yearly, thousands of miles, migration. According to National Wildlife Federation, the Monarch is one of only a few migrating insects, and they don’t have much time to make the trip (“Monarch Butterfly”). According to MonarchWatch.org, the little butterflies develop from egg to adult in about 30 days. Once they have reached their full adult stage, the butterflies only have two to five weeks to mate, lay eggs, and make progress along their 3,000 mile trek between Mexico, Canada, and back again (Lovett). While not every Monarch will make the whole trip, the eggs laid across the United States and Mexico will carry the tradition on, following a sort of internal compass and ultimately returning them back to their winter refuges in Mexico, where their ancestors before them rested (Bleicher).
Unfortunately, the Monarchs are running out of room to stretch their orange wings. According to the National Wildlife Federation, Monarch population has declined by 90% since 1990 (“Monarch Butterfly”). The milkweed, the only plant that a Monarch butterfly larvae can survive on, and the nectar plants that feed the adult throughout it’s travels, are rapidly declining, along with the butterflies (“Monarch Watch”). Farming practices, housing developments, shopping centers, and other human growth is consuming Monarch habitats “at a rate of 6,000 acres (9.4 square miles) a day – that’s 2.2 million acres a year” (“Monarch Watch”). Additionally, herbicides and pesticides used in modern farming and home care are diminishing both the butterflies and their habitats. While milkweed plants may survive the tilling of farmland, they are not immune to the harsh chemicals in herbicides (“Monarch Watch”).
Unfortunately, it is unrealistic to ask farmers to stop the complete use of herbicides, and urban growth cannot be slowed overnight. So, Monarch preservation falls in the hands of every man, woman, and child with a garden spade. We can actively work to offset the loss of habitat and food sources, by intentionally planting native plants, providing shelter to pollinators, incorporating milkweeds and other nectar plants, and following healthy gardening habits without herbicides and pesticides in personal, school, and even community garden areas (“Monarch Watch”). By registering your site as an official Monarch Waystation, not only are you working to protect a treasured species, but you get a pretty cool sign, too.
Bleicher, Ariel. “Monarchs on the Move.” Scholastic SuperScience, vol. 28, no. 7, Apr. 2017, pp. 4–7.
Lovett, Jim. “Monarch Watch : Biology : Life Cycle.” Monarchwatch.Org, 2019, monarchwatch.org/biology/cycle1.htm. Accessed 1 Oct. 2019.
“Monarch Butterfly.” National Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Federation, 2019, http://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Invertebrates/Monarch-Butterfly. Accessed 30 Sept. 2019.
“Monarch Watch Monarch Waystation Program.” Monarchwatch.Org, 2019, monarchwatch.org/waystations/. Accessed 1 Oct. 2019.