Post last updated: August 3rd, 2020
The Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterfly really gets around. Its range includes North and South America, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, the oceanic islands of the Pacific, and Western Europe. The milkweed they eat makes them poisonous and their orange coloring is a warning to predators that they are poisonous.
In 2012, I started working towards acquiring plants that appeal to butterflies rather than just me. Most of them like butterfly bush, cosmos, and lantana. My most successful acquisition, from my good friend, Cecelia, was a handful of small, common milkweed plants. Milkweeds are both host and nectar plants for monarchs.
I planted all of them in the same hole right under my bedroom window and watched it grow up to my waist. It was in full sun and attracted dozens of Monarch butterflies who laid their eggs under the leaves. The eggs became caterpillars but I never saw what happened to the adult caterpillars. I never saw the chrysalis. I had LOTS of Monarch butterflies and for me, it became the Year of the Monarch.
This year, I really messed up. I didn’t like the idea of weeding in the flower bed with my various body parts next to caterpillars. Let’s face it, a worm is a worm regardless of what kind of beautiful butterfly it may become. So I moved the plant to the front of the property. It promptly died. I then planted seeds I had saved. They never grew more than a foot in height. It was just too shady along the fence.
In 2014, I will plant them in full sun but, again, not in one of my flower beds where I work. On the subject of butterfly bush, I can’t get them to live more than one season. Any suggestions?
Open fields and meadows where milkweed is found.
The Monarch is bright orange with black borders, black veins and white spots in the black borders. The female has thicker black veins which makes her appear darker; the male has a swollen pouch on both hind wings. Wing span is 3 to almost 5 inches.
Mating is a spring time affair before they begin their migration from where they overwintered. After migration, the female will lay one egg at a time on milkweed plants over a two to five-week period for a total of 300-500 eggs for the season.
After four days, the eggs hatch and the monarch caterpillar eats the milkweed for two weeks. It goes through five developmental phases during which the caterpillar’s appearance changes slightly. It molts after each phase.
In the chrysalis stage, the caterpillar spins a silk pad on the back of a leaf or on a stem. It resembles a “J.”
The adult butterfly lives for 2 to 6 weeks. The last generation of adult butterflies that is born in September and October, however, does not die. It migrates to Mexico or California where it will live for 6 to 8 months until the process starts all over.
WHAT TO PLANT FOR THE MONARCH BUTTERFLY
Host Plants – Milkweed (Asclepias).
Nectar Plants — Agastache ‘Ava,’ Bottlebrush (Callistemon spp.), Butterfly Bush (Buddleja), Brazilian Verbena (Verbena brasiliensis), Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum), Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia), Milkweed (Asclepias), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and Zinnia (Zinnia Elegans).
Monarchs are considered threatened. Grow milkweed!