Thursday, March 21, 2013

Monarch Butterfly Population Dips

Courtesy Monarch Butterfly Fund Facebook Page
The news last week from Mexico was depressing: the monarch butterfly overwintering population dipped to the lowest numbers ever. The counts from California were lower as well. With its famous long range migration, the monarch butterfly easily snatches our attention when one glides into our gardens. They are not fragile by any means, they're warriors overcoming difficult and harsh terrain in their journey across the continent. We might not see them as much anymore unless we can do something to draw their attention - like growing milkweed (their only host plant) and rich nectar flowers to fuel their journey. So there is something we can do and now is the time to do it.

Desert Milkweed, Asclepias subulata
March and April are the perfect planting times in the lower deserts. The danger of frost is past and most of our milkweeds thrive on warm temperatures. Milkweed that survived our hard freezes this winter are now likely putting out new growth - and that will be what female monarchs will be looking for as they sweep through the area on their return trip now. Plus milkweed is great for all pollinators. Contact your local plant nursery for Desert Milkweed, Asclepias subulata, Arizona or Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias angustifolia or Tropical Milkweed (Bloodflower), Asclepias curassavica, for starters. Be sure to check if any pesticide sprays or systemics were used, especially on the Tropical Milkweed. Stay away from systemics always, but to be safe hose down a freshly purchased milkweed top to bottom (both the plant and leaves - female monarchs usually lay their eggs on the bottom side of leaves) to remove any possible residue.

Bob and I were lucky this year to visit Mexico and witness monarchs draping trees and streaming to limited available water sources to quench their thirst, an incredible natural phenomena that we'd like everyone to enjoy. We'll post photos over the next few weeks and share why we think it's worth our effort to work together to help support the monarch migration, especially through Arizona.  With Easter, Earth Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day or any special day you celebrate, why not include a package of milkweed seeds with your card or share a plant as a gift? The time is now. Together we can make a difference one milkweed at a time.
Female monarch nectaring on Tree Tithonia

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