Yesterday the New York Times reported that the monarch butterfly population fell by 59% from December 2011 to December 2012. Monarchs migrate from the United States to Mexico every fall and spend the winter in nationally protected forest. However, warmer than usual temperatures, drought, and a profound loss of habitat across the Midwest contributed to last year's precipitous decline.
Migrating monarch butterflies in Central Texas
By Loadmaster (David R. Tribble)This image was made by Loadmaster (David R. Tribble)Email the author: David R. TribbleAlso see my personal gallery at Google Picasa (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
This article upset me. Since I started working in our 8th street garden, one of my goals has been to have it certified as a Monarch Waystation. My perennial milkweeds will bloom for the first time this summer, but now I'm secretly worried that they won't sprout early enough for the early butterflies to find them. I'm going to have to do some research on milkweeds - it's unclear to me whether they need warm temperatures or long days to grow.
A map of monarch migration patterns in North America. Monarchs usually reach New York City in June, but warmer winters are causing them to migrate ahead of schedule.
By MonarchWanderungKlein.gif: Harald Süpflederivative work: Sémhur (MonarchWanderungKlein.gif) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
It would mean a lot to me to give even one or two early butterflies a place to lay their eggs, so I had a knee-jerk reaction to the news and started my tropical milkweed (Asclepias currasavica) earlier than I had planned. If all goes well, I'll set them outside sometime in April, after the last frost.
If you want to start a Monarch Waystation or butterfly garden of your own, look for Milkweed seeds and plants in your local garden centers. Last year I bought two kinds of milkweed seeds at Zuzu's Petals and had great germination rates. Know that some kinds of milkweed are perennial and they won't bloom their first year. Others, like tropical milkweed, are grown as annuals in the northern US. They will bloom the first year, and if you save your seeds in the fall you can plant them again the following spring.
During April and May I'll be keeping an eye out for early butterflies. Hopefully I won't see any.