Native Plants for Monarchs in the Chesapeake

Today’s post is inspired by an incredible Instagram video taken earlier this week by Frau Zinnie, aka Mrs. Zinnia, who blogs about all things gardening from Connecticut.

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Feeling blessed – this is an example of an “explosion” at el Rosario today. The wind causes this – if you put the sound on you’ll here what their wings sound like – and it really does sound like a waterfall. (Excuse my breathing sounds- I was trying to video tape but not just watch it through the camera lens.) It’s pretty rare to witness explosions and I saw at least two today (other members of our group saw it happen three times)! One thing to note – it is hard to photograph millions of butterflies and take in the experience in the limited time window you have at the top. The weather was gorgeous and warm today so they were very active, and the caretakers at el Rosario do a good job of keeping visitors away from the heart of the action (to prevent injured butterflies). So there were opportunities to get close to monarchs puddling in some spots but this was the closest we could get to the trees that they were in. I decided to hike up the mountain so it took me a bit longer to get there than if I opted in for the horse ride. I’m so glad I made it in time to see this. Even watching it now I can’t believe it. Surely I am in a dream. 🧡🖤

A post shared by Jen McGuinness 🌼 Frau Zinnie (@frau_zinnie) on

Thank you Frau Zinnie!  The annual migration of Monarch butterflies from parts of Canada and the US east of the Rockies to Mexico to over winter in warmer temperatures is truly stunning.  It’s amazing these intricate creatures can make such a journey.

I am no expert in butterflies but I was so taken by this video that I gathered the following information from a couple of expert resources.  While most scientists agree the North American Monarch population has declined by 90 percent, they also agree gardeners can make a difference. This is where we come in. Monarch caterpillars only eat one plant: butterfly weed (Asclepias).  Without it, the caterpillar won’t survive.

There are about 30 species of native milkweed that Monarch caterpillars consume. To feed the Monarch larva in the Chesapeake watershed,  it’s very important to plant the straight species of milkweed native here. Straight species means there has been no hybridizing of the plant.  These 10 milkweeds native to the Chesapeake region are what experts say Monarchs need.

These orange, pink, or white perennials generally need full sun; a few can grow in part shade. In my experience they are best placed in flower beds in between other perennials. I have grown the butterfly milkweed below and swamp milkweed, a mild pink color. They are fairly easy to grow. Butterfly weed is another plant that needs a rebranding. These are not weeds; rather they are colorful perennials.

In the Chesapeake watershed, we also need to provide nectar for migrating Monarchs in the fall.  The list of plants Monarchs can get nectar from is far broader than just milkweeds.

MonarchMuch of this information is culled from Kylee Bauble’s short, information packed book “the Monarch,” which tells you everything you ever wanted to know about Monarchs and the National Wildlife Federation’s beta site for finding plants native to your zip code.

Most scientists believe this butterfly migration is 2 million years old.  Let’s plant some butterfly weed this year and help them out!

For more info:

Frau Zinnie’s blog!

An informative short article about the monarch migration through the Chesapeake Watershed from the Bay journal.

A fact sheet about Monarchs from the Maryland Department of Natural Resource.

A great overview of Monarch issues and migration.

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Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

3 thoughts on “Native Plants for Monarchs in the Chesapeake

  1. This is great! Thanks for sharing with me, and I can’t wait to see what grows in your garden this year for the monarchs. 🙂

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