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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Apr 15, 2021

How to Save the Monarch Butterfly by Planting Milkweed

Advice from Garden Club R.F.D.

The Monarch butterfly is an awe-inspiring sight to see in gardens and natural areas. Their arrival in New Jersey is viewed by many people as a sign of the change in seasons. You have probably read or heard of their long-distance seasonal migration and spectacular gatherings in Mexico and California. This population has recently declined to dangerously low levels. Hundreds of millions of Monarchs used to make the flight each fall to the oyamel fir forests in central Mexico and the forested groves on the coast of California. The Xerces Society now tells us that only a fraction of this population remains. An 80 percent decline was seen in central Mexico with a 99 percent decline seen in coastal California.  

With developments taking over natural landscapes, increased use of herbicide and pesticide-intensive crops and climate change causing natural disasters, a gardener can help to reverse the loss of habitat for Monarchs by planting milkweed (asclepias). Milkweed is the only plant that will sustain a Monarch through each of its life stages. It also produces a chemical that makes Monarchs toxic and bitter-tasting to some of its predators. Almost all Milkweed plants produce a white, sticky sap that oozes when their stems or leaves are broken. That sap contains a semi-poisonous compound that can be toxic to animals when consumed in large quantities. This toxic compound is cardiac glycosides that can make birds and other small species sick and possibly die. It is, however, this same sap that is key to the survival of this spectacular butterfly. Its caterpillars will only eat the foliage of the milkweed plant, allowing them to survive. The Monarch butterflies, after feeding on the nectar of its flowers, lay their eggs on the milkweed plants, allowing the resulting caterpillars to safely grow to maturity while there. 

Monarch Joint Venture, a partnership of American federal, state and other organizations, recommends the following milkweed species for the Mid-Atlantic: Common (asclepias syriaca), Swamp (A. incarnata), Butterfly Weed (A. tuberosa), Whorled (A. verticillata), and Poke (A. exaltata).

Growing milkweed is a delight in the garden. The colorful flower clusters and sweet fragrance will easily earn a place among your favorite perennials. For the ornamental garden, Orange Butterfly Weed and Swamp Milkweed are considered the best varieties as they spread gently. Common Milkweed is more aggressive and spreads by underground roots. Therefore, it is recommended that these are planted in gardens where they will have space to naturalize or planted in peripheral areas of the landscape where they can be free to spread.

Help Monarch butterflies thrive by growing the one plant they need the most: milkweed.

Garden Club R.F.D. is a member of the Garden Club of New Jersey, the Central Atlantic Region of State Garden Clubs, Inc., and the National Garden Clubs, Inc.  Meetings are held at the Little Red Schoolhouse on Middletown Lincroft Road in Middletown.  For more information, contact Ruth Korn at ruthkorn77@gmail.com.