One of nature's most incredible displays is the annual migration of the monarch butterfly. Starting in September and October, eastern/northeastern populations migrate from southern Canada and the United States to overwintering sites in central Mexico where they arrive around November. They start the return trip in March, arriving around July. No individual butterfly completes the entire round trip; female monarchs lay eggs for the next generation during the northward migration with at least five generations involved in the annual cycle.
However, with the loss of food sources and habitat, the monarch butterfly is at risk, with the number of migrating monarchs sinking to the lowest recorded population level in 2013–14, resulting in an imminent risk of failed migration. There is now a multi-national effort, from Canada to Mexico, to help the monarch recover, and we can help here in Michigan, right in our own gardens.
Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed; their caterpillars only eat milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.), and adult monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs. With shifting land management practices, we have lost much milkweed from the landscape. Please plant milkweed to support monarch populations! Planting milkweed is a great way to help other pollinators too, as the plants provide valuable nectar resources to a diverse population of bees and other butterflies.
Adult monarchs will drink the nectar of many flowers in addition to milkweed, in fact, they need a variety or sources to nourish them throughout the growing season. Including a variety on native flowering species with different bloom times in your landscape will provide monarch the the food they need to reproduce in the spring and summer and to then migrate in the fall. Offering a wide variety of native nectar plants will attract monarchs and other butterflies and pollinators to you yard all season long!
You can find out more about the efforts to help the monarchs, where to buy milkweed seeds and growing instructions through many non-profit organizations. Please visit the Save Our Monarchs Foundation, Monarch Watch, or the Michigan State Extension Service to find out how you can help!