Letter from Publisher
Photo: Peggy Malecki
This morning, I made an exciting discovery in our garden’s small milkweed plants, as my eyes caught a chewing pattern that repeated across several leaves—could it be? After carefully looking at the underside of three leaves, I spotted the little guy, all one-quarter-inch of tricolor striping. The first monarch caterpillar I’ve ever seen in my own garden!
Yet, I’ve only seen a total of five monarch butterflies this season. The same holds true for many gardeners I know, with some exceptions in our area where surrounding conditions are ideal. Monarch butterflies are our Illinois state insect, yet for another year, overall populations of this annual migrator remain low.
Monarch populations are hard to estimate, as the annual migration from Mexico to the Midwest and Canada, and then back to its overwintering territory in Mexico’s forests, includes several generations. Populations may change as they move through Texas and our area, only to bounce back or decrease again late in the season. Much of the research relies on the reports of citizen scientists who work with national groups like Monarch Watch (MonarchWatch.org) and Monarch Joint Venture (MonarchJointVenture.org), as well as through local organizations. Data for 2017 won’t be available until the winter, but looking at prior year data compared to populations of 20 years ago topping 1 billion, the monarch remains in serious decline.
As these butterflies migrate, they need protective rest stops and areas rich with milkweed, the only place where they lay their eggs, and upon which the larvae feed. Scientists attribute the decline to loss of food along the migration path, deforestation in Mexico, drought and the disappearance of milkweed habitat on Midwestern farms. The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) adds one more factor: rampant use of herbicides containing glyphosate, one of the main ingredients in Monsanto Roundup, to manage vegetation along U.S. highways.
Herbicides, combined with highway mowing, have decimated milkweed, and many states are working with environmental groups to study their roadside management policies. But new concerns are rising, says the NRDC, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this year re-approved the registration for Dow’s Enlist Duo, a combination herbicide designed to kill milkweed.
You can create a yard that’s hospitable to monarchs and other pollinators by growing native plants instead of ornamentals. Yes, Asiatic lilies and exotic flowers are pretty, but they do nothing for birds, monarchs and other insects that cannot feed on these non-native plants. Monarch Watch offers how-to information for planting milkweed and setting up a butterfly garden. The Chicago Botanic Garden (ChicagoBotanic.org) has ideas for planting pollinator strips and maintains a beautiful butterfly garden at their Glencoe location. A quick Google search will pull up lots of other monarch and native plant resources.
Enjoy your August!