The Monarch Butterfly Story
As the weather in Mexico warms in the spring both the male and female Monarch’s begin their journey north. Their food source along the way is Milkweeds. After traveling for 4-5 weeks and approximately 1000 miles the female lays eggs on the underneath side of Milkweed leaves and shortly thereafter dies. Within a week tiny caterpillars emerge and begin to munch away on the Milkweed leaves and within a week grows to a full size beautiful green, white, yellow, and black caterpillar that leaves the Milkweed plants in search of a place to hide and form its chrysalis. It may suspend itself from other plants, rocks, trees, furniture, siding… After a day or so the caterpillar begins to hang like a J and shortly after begins the formation of the bright green Chrysalis cocoon with a gold ring at the top. It only takes a minute or less for the caterpillar to form its chrysalis and then 20-30 minutes met morphing itself inside the co coon to begin the development of the butterfly.
After about a week the chrysalis begins to darken and gradually the bright colors of the developing monarch can be seen prior to it busting out of its co coon after 10-14 days. The monarch must wait until its wings are dry before taking flight to complete the next leg of the journey north. This process repeats itself 2 more times with the emerging 3rd generation Monarch being born as far north as the Canadian border. This Monarch however is the Super Monarch. As the weather begins to cool in the fall this magnificent butterfly begins the 3000 mile journey all the way back to Mexico and winters there before starting the migration process all over again in the spring. Eddie Woodin, friend, mentor, and Master Gardener sums up this magical process with these words, “confirms the Monarch is God’s creation not evolution.”
Here are some things I have learned while developing a Monarch Butterfly “Way Station” Garden.
Monarchs as well as other butterflies and bees will be attracted to any garden with pollinating flowers and shrubs like Joe Pye Weed, Zinnias, Hydrangeas, Cone flowers, Sunflowers…….
Monarchs will remain in a single location and return to this area generations later if besides the pollinating flowers the garden has Common, Swamp, and Butterfly Milkweeds.
Monarchs lay their eggs on and feast on all three of these milkweed plants.
Most nurseries do not carry Common Milkweed because it is an aggressive weed and not as pretty as Swamp Milkweed and Butterfly Weed.
If attempting to transplant Common Milkweed make sure to take a large root ball because while the root is shallow it travels laterally often more than a foot.
Help save the Monarchs by adding Swampies and Butterfly Weed to your garden for beautiful color and food for the monarchs.
If you want to witness the magic of the Monarch life cycle watching as butterflies multiply in your garden add all 3 Milkweeds and other pollinating flowers.