If you're like me, your childhood memories include a lot more butterflies, especially monarchs. But according to many studies, the eastern population of monarchs has declined by 90% over the last 20 years. Part of the decline has been due to loss of overwintering habitat, but another large component has been a decrease in available milkweed; monarch butterflies breed only where milkweed is found, since their larvae feed exclusively on this plant. Agricultural use of herbicides has been very effective at decreasing the presence of this common plant.
If you've visited our Durham office, you may have noticed the naturalized area to one side of our lot. We have no plans to develop that area, and we've enjoyed watching the deer, birds, and bunnies take advantage of the native shrubs and grasses. But now we're going to attempt to make it even more attractive to wildlife by creating a butterfly habitat.
MonarchWatch.org is a group that works to educate the public about the threats to the monarch population and encourage the public to take action to help. They provide information and seed kits to interested individuals, and they've been wonderful enough to provide us with 192 common milkweed plants, which we'll be transplanting to our naturalized area. Over the next months, we'll also be adding nectar sources, especially native species. If we're successful at growing milkweed, we may even be able to provide free plants to the public at some point in the future.
If you're interested in helping the monarch butterfly, please check out MonarchWatch.org's site. The most commonly available species for our area:
I've found plants available at Niche Gardens (www.nichegardens.com) and at Southern States in Carrboro (https://www.southernstates.com/storelocations/75647/). If you have ideas and sources for plants, please leave us a comment to help spread the word.
In the meantime, we'll keep working on our butterfly project and maybe someday soon we'll be posting photos of our own flying jewels.