Of Migration and Monarchs
Welcome to the first installment of Earthplace’s Naturalist Notes – a way for our readers to learn more about their local ecology! On a ___ basis, this little blip in the internet will provide fun facts and fascinating info on the plants and wildlife in the area – and how you can live more in tune with the surrounding environment.
The monarch butterfly is an amazing insect that travels 2,500 to 3,000 miles each year to winter in Mexico. Without appropriate habitat, the butterfly cannot complete its journey. Further, without the appropriate habitat, the monarch can’t even complete its life cycle. The monarch butterfly is what we refer to as a “specialist.” There is only one type of plant that their caterpillars can consume, and those plants lie the genus Asclepius. Around here, we have a number of native milkweeds, including common milkweed (Asclepius syriaca), butterflyweed (Asclepius tuberosa), and swamp milkweed (Asclepius incarnata). The flowers are colorful and lovely, and common milkweed has a heady fragrance.
The word “native” is key here. Not just any milkweed is helpful to monarchs. The milkweeds that grow in the northeastern part of the US are the milkweed species that have co-evolved with the branch of monarch butterflies who migrate here. The composition of their nectar (food for the adult), and the level of toxicity in their leaves (food for the caterpillar) are uniquely suited to our visiting butterflies. Fun fact: the toxicity of the leaves that the caterpillars eat builds up in their systems, so that as adults, the butterflies are distasteful and potentially poisonous to birds. Hence, their bright coloring serves as a warning to would-be predators.
Wondering where you can buy native plants?
Here are two Connecticut nurseries:
Live in New York? Check out these nurseries: