Monarch butterfly habitat degradation and destruction has become a well-known issue and the public has responded to the call for action by planting their landscapes and gardens with their plant of preference, milkweed. But is any species of milkweed appropriate? Unfortunately, many people have been purchasing and planting a tropical species of milkweed, rather than the native species which the monarch requires to complete its life cycle and migration.
Multitudes of sympathetic, motivated Americans have been trying to support monarch butterfly populations and return the environment to one that fosters population increase, provides food, forage and habitat and aids them along their migratory route. These well-intentioned environmentalists have begun planting their gardens with milkweed, the food of choice for monarch larvae and adults. However, emerging research indicates that the species of milkweed being planted may actually be hurting monarch communities rather than helping.
The tropical milkweed species sold at many nurseries is chosen due to its longer bloom period as compared the native species preferred by monarchs. The butterflies will sometimes still feed on the plants, but it isn’t necessarily good for them. The issue with tropical milkweed appears to be this extended flowering time; with excess food sources available for longer than the butterflies are accustomed to the motivation to migrate wanes and many monarchs remain local long after they should be gone for the season.
The stagnancy of this lifestyle choice is unhealthy and the blooms and mild weather do not last forever, endangering large numbers of monarch butterflies. Additionally, they may become more susceptible to parasites which will be able to spread easily and quickly through sedentary, weakened butterfly communities. If you plan on making your garden more amenable to pollinators like monarch, confirm that you are planting native species preferred by the insects which bloom at the right time and provide assistance to migration.