That beautiful combo of big bright orange wings with black borders and white polka dots belongs to one of the most recognizable butterflies in North America. These seemingly delicate wings are actually quite mighty! The Migratory Monarch Butterfly population is so special because it is the only migratory insect to travel up to 3,000 miles (from Canada to Mexico and back).
I love seeing them grace my garden, so a years ago, I researched how to raise a few at home and teach my boys about their lifecycle. We have been raising butterflies each year during Spring and Summer. This a great way for littles to learn about metamorphosis and that different creatures need different care.
Watching their life cycle teaches patience, how to be careful and gentle with our hands, that we do not need to fear holding caterpillars, and is a fun intro to the world of bugs!
Click here for some awesome facts about Monarch Butterflies.
HOWEVER, while writing this article that was supposed to tell you how to raise and release Monarchs, I learned it is illegal in California to touch Monarchs at all!
You have to apply for a Scientific Collecting Permit to do so through the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife. I’m so bummed as I love doing this but I get it.
Monarch Butterflies are a very vulnerable population and it’s best to not disturb them in the wild.
On July 21, 2022, the Migratory Monarch Butterfly was announced “endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. The list is not related to our US Endangered Species Act, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service has not listed the monarch butterfly as endangered. They say the listing was warranted but precluded based on priority (so no extra funding).
The numbers have been dire for many years.
The monarch population is dwindling due to habitat destruction. Agricultural pesticides that have limited their food source. And of course climate change hasn’t helped. The western Monarch population has declined 99.9% according to the IUCN!
This iconic pollinator is actually at risk of extinction, so what can we do to help!?
#1 – Plant a pollinator friendly garden with native plants and flowers.
You can find a list of Native California Plants here.
#2 – Do not use pesticides and products like Roundup which are super toxic.
This helps out all pollinators and wildlife (and us too). When you are shopping for native milkweed and native flowers for your garden, only buy from nurseries or providers that do not use pesticides. When in doubt, just ask.
#3 – The most important way we can help is by planting NATIVE Milkweed (Asclepias) in our gardens or in a container outside.
#4 – Please try to avoid the Tropical Milkweed that is easy to find (red, orange, and yellow flowers).
Go Native. You can ask neighbors to plant some, give it as a gift, and speak with your community about local planting initiatives.
What else can we do to help endangered Monarch Butterflies?
Check out your local nursery for some NATIVE milkweed plants to bring home and either plant or leave in the grow pots. Milkweed is super easy to grow. Just water when the top inch or two of soil is dry. If you plant it in the garden, it is very drought tolerant.
There are many types of Milkweed, or Asclepias, found around the world but here in Orange County, you can usually find Narrowleaf Milkweed which goes dormant in the winter.
Rogers Gardens actually does a free milkweed swap – one tropical for one native and it is the most amazing nursery in Orange County; you simply must visit.
NOTE: Milkweed is poisonous so always wash your hands after handling and planting as the milky sap is irritating. Monarchs store the Milkweed toxins inside them for their whole adult life so they taste bad. The bright orange of the Monarchs wings warns predators that it is toxic and to stay away!
Because you cannot use any type of pesticides on this Monarch food source, there will be aphids and milkweed bugs over time. You can spray them off with water often or use your fingers and rub them off with water. These sap suckers sure are annoying but wont hurt you. When you grow milkweed you also have to cut it back a few times a year to reduce OE spores and keep the plants ready for Monarchs. Here’s why. Cut it back in December for sure, cut it down to a few inches, it will grow back, I promise.
Here are some other ways to help : Monarch monitoring resources.
A bucket list item for me is visiting the Monarch overwintering grounds in Mexico. I hope to go someday and experience this magical butterfly forest! There are many overwintering sites on California’s coast as well, including Huntington and San Clemente Beaches, check them out here.
I hope this article gave you some Native Plant and Butterfly inspo! California’s glorious weather means we can plant year-round, so no time is better than the present!