Gracefully flittering on vibrant wings from flower to flower, the Monarch Butterfly is perhaps the most celebrated and iconic of our garden visitors. Nearly everyone has experienced the joy and wonder of raising a caterpillar, feeding it milkweed leaves, watching it form its chrysalis, and then magically emerge transformed into a living jewel.
Even more amazing, and less known, is the multigenerational migration these tiny insects make across the North American Continent. The journey begins as far north as the Great Lakes as the adults begin a trip in the Fall that can cover 3,000 miles to the Transvolcanic mountains of Mexico. There are only 14 known sites in these mountains that shelter the millions of returning butterflies while they overwinter on old trees. They return to the same trees used by their great-great-grandparents, without ever having made the trip themselves. How they achieve this feat is unknown. Come Spring, they wake up from overwintering and fly north to lay the next generation of Monarchs on milkweed plants in Texas. From there, it can take another three generations to reach the far North. And then, come Fall, the amazing migration starts all over again.
Alarmingly, Monarch populations have been declining from their historical levels for nearly 17 years. Steps are being taken in Mexico to preserve the overwintering sites from habitat destruction, but only 5 of the 14 sites have been declared a sanctuary and logging continues to be commonplace. Action in the US has also been slow to develop. That is because there is no one specific culprit leading to the population crash. Certainly habitat loss has played a major role as once plentiful natural areas are developed for cities or agricultural land. Milkweed plants have become scarcer as new herbicides allow farmers to have weed free fields, and other people point to the use of pesticides as a contributing factor. Researchers also believe the changing climate patterns could be affecting development rates and their migratory compass.
Scientists believe that if humans can quickly change their habits to better accommodate the Monarch Butterfly that the populations can rebound quickly to safer levels and avoid extinction. But time is running out for us to make the necessary changes. There are simple steps for home owners and business owners to take to reduce their negative impacts and become butterfly friendly.
The first step is to stop using broad spectrum pesticides which kill all insects indiscriminately. We must learn to protect the beneficial insects and find more effective pest control measures rather than falling back onto the use of chemicals. This strategy is commonly called Integrated Pest Management, and you can learn more here: http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/GENERAL/whatisipm.html. The second step is to create habitat for both the larvae and the adults. Since milkweed populations are in decline, install groups of five or more plants to provide plenty of room for egg laying and food for the larvae to eat. There are more than 100 species of milkweed native to North America. Follow this link to learn which species are good selections for your region:http://monarchwatch.org/bring-back-the-monarchs/milkweed/milkweed-profiles. Nectar plants for adult butterflies are also necessary. Some of the more common ornamental flowers include: http://www.monarchwatch.org/garden/nectar.htm.
Klausing Group has been working for years to develop better ways of doing landscaping. Traditional methods are known to harm not only butterflies but also honey bees, birds, our groundwater systems, and even our health. Our Naturally Better programs have done a lot to protect beneficial insects, reduce pollutants, and reduce carcinogens. But there is always room to grow. Starting in 2013, Klausing Group began the renovation of one of our basins for improved stormwater control and quality. The project eventually developed into the transformation of the basin into a rain garden. Most of the plants installed are Kentucky natives and were placed according to their tolerance of saturated soils. Three species of milkweed were also installed. The Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is placed at the bottom where it stays the wettest. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is planted about half way up the rain garden’s side. And Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is at the top of the hill where it is drier and faster draining. More than 50 species (40 native) of plants, and over 300 individual plants were installed in this restoration effort. The selection and diversity of the plants provide habitat to not only Monarch Butterflies, but many other species of butterflies, bees, other beneficial insects, and birds. In fact, Klausing Group’s rain garden meets the criteria to qualify as a Monarch Waystation. The best confirmation of the success of our Monarch Waystation was that at the end of the first day, as we were cleaning up from the installation, a Monarch Butterfly came to drink from our flowers. Instant gratification.
Learn more here: http://www.monarchwatch.org/waystations/certify.html to create and register your own Monarch Waystation. Below is a list of plants installed in Klausing Group’s rain garden. Please call 859-254-0762 if you would like to make an appointment to tour our rain garden or our other green infrastructure projects.