We live in Santa Cruz, California, one of the areas where the Monarch butterflies gather after their migration, and we regularly see Monarchs in our garden. Their populations have been declining drastically. Scientists have said that planting milkweed would help, since Monarchs require milkweed for their life cycle. They lay their eggs on the milkweed and the young feed on the toxic plant, making the caterpillars undesirable to birds other prey. Planting milkweed also provides flowers for bees and other butterflies as well. So we added some milkweed to the garden this year.
This proved to be a little bit harder than just going to the local nursery, picking out a variety of milkweed that we thought was pretty, and then planting it. The monarchs that travel in different parts of the country require different varieties of milkweed. Planting the wrong kind may actually be detrimental because it may overwinter and harbor pathogens that could harm the right kind of milkweed. Below, is a photo of the milkweed we had last year that was the wrong kind, but it still attracts butterflies and we will make sure we take it out in the fall.
However, after finding the Monarch Joint Venture website which lists the varieties for our area, we were able to order seed for the milkweed we wanted – a lovely, purple variety. We searched online (using the Latin name for the milkweed variety, to make sure we had the right one) and ordered the seeds from a company selling on Amazon. Then we used the tray from a sprouting kit to start the seeds indoors in order to give them a fighting chance. Later, we will be planting the seedlings in the garden.
We had total failure on the seeds started indoors. The plants started in planters outside, however, quickly germinated and grew well. The Monarch butterflies had no trouble at all finding them and we now have Showy Milkweed covered with Monarch caterpillars.
A second generation of Monarch butterflies returned today to lay eggs on the milkweed we planted for them. We are hoping we have established a place they will return to each year. They are attracted to the milkweed flowers as well as for a place to lay eggs.