Milkweed for Monarchs (and native bees, beetles, birds, etc.)

 

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) is a herbaceous perennial plant native to western North America, and is the only native milkweed species known to occur in the West Kootenay region. For a long time, milkweed has been considered a ‘noxious weed’ and we have lost much of this native wildflower across our landscape.

The iconic monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) occurs in our area occasionally and it has recently been added to the endangered species list in Canada. Monarch butterflies need milkweed, without it, they cannot survive. Adult butterflies lay their eggs only on milkweed and milkweed is the only food caterpillars eat.

Grow Your Own Milkweed Village

Planting showy milkweed to support monarch populations in our area is the best way to support this amazing animal and its long distance migration. Milkweed is also home to a wide array of other insects, and provides nectar to a wide array of butterflies, bees, beneficial insects, aphids and others.

“of 43 species of native flowering perennials evaluated, showy milkweed attracted the most beneficial insects in a Washington state vineyard study

“of 43 species of native flowering perennials evaluated, showy milkweed attracted the most beneficial insects” in a Washington state vineyard study D.J. James

Monarch Watch promotes the concept of the Milkweed Village, recognizing the importance of native milkweeds to local biodiversity, including monarchs. We have seen the endangered Western bumblebee on local milkweed, along with honeybees, milkweed beetles, cobalt beetles and hummingbirds. Milkweed produces a white latex sap that contains a bitter toxin. Most animals learn to avoid eating it, but some have adapted to eat it, absorbing it into their bodies to protect themselves from predators.

Adult monarchs sip nectar from a wide variety of blossoms.

Adult monarchs sip nectar from a wide variety of blossoms.

Other native plants are incorporated into the village to meet the needs of monarchs and sustain their migration. Adult monarchs need nectar from a variety of plants while in their summer breeding area. Native plants that we have observed monarchs nectaring on in the West Kootenay include Canada goldenrod, fall asters, and pearly everlasting. Late-blooming plants like these are especially important at the end of the season for monarchs preparing for the long migration to California.

For more information about creating your own native plant based milkweed village, join us at our outreach booth. We have seeds and further instructions available.

A good primer on gardening for monarchs is available from the Monarch Joint Venture. They also include great information about monarch biology, habitat conservation and threats to the monarch migration.

Citizen Science

You can also help us understand populations of milkweed and monarchs in the West Kootenay. Report your sightings to

Resources

A great place for resources about milkweed and monarchs is the David Suzuki Foundation ‘Got Milkweed?’ page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I get showy milkweed seeds or plants?

KNPS has small quantities of seeds carefully harvested from local native showy milkweed populations. As far as we know, this is the only source of truly local, native milkweed. See us at local garden fests for seeds (and some seedlings) in May 2017.

What about other milkweeds from garden centres?

Rising concern about the plight of the monarchs has spurred interest in planting milkweed in home gardens. The Xerces Society has a great description of milkweeds, including the 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year: Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).

Butterfly weed is not native to our region, only Showy Milkweed is. If you are concerned about our native biodiversity including plants and monarchs, ask your nursery to provide Showy Milkweed in the future.

I want to help monarchs. Can I buy and rear caterpillars and release them?

We all want to help monarchs! Importing caterpillars or butterflies seems like a great way to increase the local monarch population. We discourage this well-intentioned effort, based on the advice of leading monarch scientists. Read their statement here: Are we helping or hurting monarchs...

Resources

Citizen Science

Report your monarch sightings:

Monitoring protocol for milkweed: