Monarch Butterflies and All Their Glory

I love butterflies and was so excited when Polly, a graduate from The Clemson Master Garden Program came to speak to my February Ladies Lunch at Learn about Monarchs, their plight and what we can do to help.


Flight path of the Monarchs

Monarch Butterflies have such an interesting life cycle.  As we were having our Lunch and Learn in February, the Monarchs were already starting the journey North from the oyamel fir forest in Michoacan, Mexico.  This is the only place that the Monarchs wait over the winter and after they reproduce, they will be begin a 3,000+ mile trek North.


They will lay their eggs on their way North in the Midwest and then will die 2 to 6 weeks later.¬†The only plant the¬†female will lay her eggs are in milk weed plants! A butterfly can lay up to¬†400 eggs or more in 1 day. There is a severe shortage of milkweed plants and once the larvae hatch if they don’t have enough milkweed they will die. The larvae will then form a chrysalis and will emerge as a butterfly less than 1 month from the time their mom laid her eggs. The moms may live between 2-6 weeks longer before they die. In 30 days these eggs will have turned into butterflies and will begin the next leg of their journey North. There will be 3 generations born and the 4th generation will be the butterflies that make their way ALL the way back to Mexico! How crazy is that? They have a wicked¬†GPS system!

Monarch Life Cycle

The life span of the Monarch depends on when it is born and if they will be the migratory butterfly that will eventually fly back to Mexico.¬†The Monarchs will end up back in Mexico right around the time of Dia de los Muertos. “According to local legend, the Monarch butterflies arriving in Mexico at this time of the year are believed to be the souls of the deceased returning to earth.”


Threats to the Monarchs:

  • Not enough milkweed to lay their eggs on. There are 2 kinds of milkweed: Common Milkweed which is very invasive and Swap Milkweed which is easier to maintain. There is a push to turn America’s Roadsides into pollinator heaven! I think this is a fabulous idea! It would cut down on mowing and it will allow our pollinators and other a natures beautiful species to flourish. There are approximately 17 MILLION ACRES of roadsides in the US. Why not take do something productive with it!?
  • Pesticides
  • Extreme Weather
  • Crop Monocultures – the planting of the same species for acres. (Same issue that our bees have)
  • Illegal Logging in Mexico – Thankfully illegal logging is on the decline. ¬†According to SciDev.Net,¬†due to ‚Äúdecade-long financial support from Mexican and international philanthropists and businesses to create local alternative income generation and employment‚ÄĚ, it says. Schemes such as community tree nurseries, the growing ecotourism sector and community surveillance of illegal logging have generated new sources of income for local people.

Oyamel fir forest in Michoacan, Mexico

Thankfully there has been a rise in the number of monarchs but we still have a ways to go:

  • 2012 to 2013 there were only about 1.4 acres of Monarch!
  • 2014 there were 2.8 acres
  • 2015 10 acres!

What can you do to help? Glad you asked! ;)

  • Plant Milkweed – The¬†Fish and Wildlife¬†entered into a partnership¬†with two private conservation groups, the National Wildlife Federation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, to grow milkweed like crazy across the country in the hopes of saving as many monarchs as possible. The plan is to make the plant widely available at nurseries. Here is a great link about how individuals can help by receiving free¬†milkweed plants as well as a grant that can be earned for larger spaces! There is also a program for schools and nonprofits. Don’t have a yard? No problem, here are some great container ideas.¬†There are several types of milkweed, check out Joyful Butterfly for some great ideas.


Monarch caterpillar on milkweed

  • Create a Wildlife Habitat in your own yard – this doesn’t have to be complicated nor does it have to be a large space. Just be mindful of what you are doing. Plant flowers for all stages of Monarch (and other pollinator) life span. Some great options are Lantana, Mexican Sunflowers, Zinna, Coneflowers, Phlox, and Butterfly Bush just to name a few.
  • Stop using pesticides
  • Encourage your friends, neighbors, schools, NGOs and parks to get on board


Great Websites to check out:

Monarch Watch 

Monarch Butterfly Gardening

Annual Cycle

Learn About Monarchs


South Carolina Wildlife Federation


Great resources for Teachers:

Monarch Butterfly Journey North

Forest Service


University of Minnesota




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