General Question

ibstubro's avatar

Are you doing anything to aid the declining Monarch butterfly population?

Asked by ibstubro (18765points) September 13th, 2014

See this.

I’ve scoped out a couple of patches of milkweed, and I’m planning on harvesting some pods and sending them in. I’m also considering planting some milkweeds on my property.

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50 Answers

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
SQUEEKY2's avatar

Keep up the good work, I will leave ya to it.

snowberry's avatar

Fighting Monsanto is a good start. GMO’s are largely responsible for their demise.

wildpotato's avatar

I left several dozen milkweeds growing around the edges of my lawn, but none of the many caterpillers living on and eating them are monarchs. Others are infested with hundreds of tiny orange bugs. Boo.

pleiades's avatar

1998, I believe that’s the year El Nino was in the South West region, could all that rain have played a roll in the massive boom? Regardless the decline is so sad

Here2_4's avatar

I planted some milkweed seeds, but I don’t think they came up. I planted them on an overgrown, empty lot across the way.

trailsillustrated's avatar

They are strong here!

gailcalled's avatar

I maintain an very large old field in order to have lots of milkweed plants. That means paying a guy to brush hog it every August., not an inexpensive event. The milkweed spreads everywhere here. But there are still far fewer monarchs than there used to be.

Monarchs will lay eggs also on dill plants, I just discovered. Then the pupa will attach to the dill stems. So I grow those in pots on my deck. Once started they will reseed every year

(Corollary; remember that honey bees love dandelions, which should not be treated as weeds and yanked up or sprayed with a toxic weed killer.)

syz's avatar

I haven’t seen a milkweed plant since I was kid. Maybe I’ll look into growing some. But I do have heavy plantings of various perennial sages (which the hummingbirds and butterflies love), butterfly bushes, and other nectar-feeder-friendly plants. I don’t use any chemicals (except for occasional Round-Up on poison ivy), and my “grass” is pretty much weeds (the bees love the clover) – it’s green, and it looks nice when it’s mowed.

gailcalled's avatar

Syz; plant some dill. In your climate, it will reseed easily. (Even Round-up is nasty. Try boiling water on the poison ivy if it isn’t too rampant.) Also bee balm for the hummers.

syz's avatar

Yes, I’ve tried bee balm (modara) again this year, but I’ve had a big problem with mildew in the past. So far, so good.

I am deathly allergic to poison ivy, so I’m afraid I must use whatever means available.

syz's avatar

@ibstubro You’ve inspired me. I’ve found a nursery in the area that specializes in native species, and they have 2 species of milkweed in stock. I think I’ll go visit them today.

ibstubro's avatar

I think those are milkweed bugs, @wildpotato. The Monarch website cautions about getting any in the seeds you collect, as they will eat the seeds.

Maybe try starting some at home, and transplanting, @Here2_4. I understand that once started, some milkweeds propagate by rhizome, under the ground.

Dill would be easier to find and grow, @gailcalled.

Vinegar is an effective weed killer, @syz. I’m pleased you’re hunting milkweed plants!!

gailcalled's avatar

Dill may be easier but I suspect that the Monarchs treat it as their second home. MIlkweed is the family manse.

ibstubro's avatar

I’m going to try to harvest some milkweed seeds this fall, @gailcalled & @syz. Although I don’t have much of a green thumb, I might try starting some in the spring. Even better yet, there is a small, privately owned greenhouse up the road from me – maybe I can get the owner to start offering milkweed plants.

How did you come out with the milkweed hunt, @syz? I can send you seeds at some near date, if you so desire.

syz's avatar

I bought two Asclepias tuberosa. They had one other species that grows to 6 feet and I didn’t have anywhere to put that one.

ibstubro's avatar

What a cool looking plant, @syz.

osoraro's avatar

I’ve cut down on my intake of sauteed butterfly with asparagus and garlic.

gailcalled's avatar

Joe pye weed is also an attractor; it grows wild in great profusion here, along with the neighboring milkweed. It must be the slightly acidic, slightly moist soil and lots of sunlight.

ibstubro's avatar

I wonder, @gailcalled, how the Monarch caterpillars who eat dill protect themselves? Normally they depend on the toxins in milkweed (which they assimilate) to ward off predators.

I was thinking about this conversation in the car today, while I was scoping out new milkweed patches.

gailcalled's avatar

@ibstubro: Not a clue. My sister showed me three hatched pupae on the dill plant. That’s all I can tell you. Maybe it is not a good choice for them. I wouldn’t even know where to research this.

ibstubro's avatar

Here @gailcalled.

I can’t research and drive, I’m not mobile.

Very cool.

gailcalled's avatar

@ibstubro: A terrific resource…thank-you..

“Adult butterflies use various flowering plants as nectar sources, including milkweeds; eupatoriums such as boneset and Joe-Pye weed; goldenrods; asters; blazing star or Liatris; ironweed or Vernonia; many daisy-like plants and more.”

I have all of the above growing as wild flowers in my old field except Liatris. I had tried planting a few but the phlox crowded them out.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@ibstubro “I wonder, @gailcalled, how the Monarch caterpillars who eat dill protect themselves? Normally they depend on the toxins in milkweed (which they assimilate) to ward off predators.”

At this point, just looking like a monarch would probably be sufficient. As long as most of the individuals are poisonous, the predators will get the point and avoid them all. It works for a lot of non-poisonous butterfly species, which have evolved to look like poisonous species to escape the clutches of their shared predators.

ibstubro's avatar

Yes, I considered that, too, @dappled_leaves, and I agree.

wildpotato's avatar

@gailcalled Are you actually seeing any monarch caterpillers on your plants? I just discussed this with my work friends and everyone agrees, they’re really scarce over here.

gailcalled's avatar

Not recently. I suspect that many of those who were around last spring were picked off by the birds. I probably saw a handful of the butterfies.

syz's avatar

Hah! I just talked to our facilities manager at work. We have a naturalized area of about an acre around the back of the hospital, and we’re going to plan a butterfly habitat. I’m so excited!

gailcalled's avatar

@syz; I share in your excitement.

Let us know what, when, how and soil prep. Can you include a time-share arrangement for honey bees? Like dandelions?

snowberry's avatar

@syz Lots of people plant butterfly bushes. But this article says don’t because although it attracts lots of butterflies, it does nothing to feed hungry catterpillars. It’s also very invasive, producing many seeds which will crowd out native plants. It also gives a list of appropriate plants for butterflies. http://insects.about.com/od/butterfliesmoths/qt/substitutes-for-butterfly-bush.htm

gailcalled's avatar

Just took my maiden voyage behind the wheel of my car since surgery on Friday. There are thousands of adolescent milkweed plants springing up all over my old field, brushhogged about 8 weeks ago. Where it has compatible soil, light and nutrient conditions, milk weed is unstoppable. Neighbors are goldenrod, chicory, Joe Pye, Queen Anne’s lace, purple thistle (all the finches love this) and this week a deep blue wild aster.

syz's avatar

I’ve been looking, and while we have lots and lots of goldenrod and pokeweed, I have been able to find any milkweed.

gailcalled's avatar

I forgot pokeweed on my list. @syz: Either there are scads of milkweed or none. It is not a shrinking violet. Odd, just the same.

Soil is resting on shale, very acidic, w. lots of clay, and some soggy spots where cinnamon ferns grow. Field is very sunny.

ibstubro's avatar

Man, I’m overrun with poke weed, @syz. They look so juicy and tempting!

syz's avatar

@ibstubro I used to smash the berries and paint handprints on the white pony that lived where I used to work. Did you know that in spite of it being toxic, you can eat pokeweed?

Here2_4's avatar

I rarely drive the rural highways these days, so I never get them with my grill any more.

ibstubro's avatar

‘Store the root for later use’? @syz Use as what? I think I’ll leave the poke plants alone. I thought that I’d been told that you could eat the fresh shoots, much like asparagus. My rule of thumb with unknown edibles? Someone else has to prepare and eat it first. :)

That said, I remember collecting poke berries for an old hillbilly woman when I was a kid. She had gotten too old to collect her own berries, but needed to make a batch of ‘rhumatize’ medicine. We always jokingly suggested she fermented them, but your link says they are good for “Rheumatism, achy joints”. Very interesting!

ibstubro's avatar

My former-hippy friend Jane says she has been breeding Monarch’s for years. Originally she would pluck the caterpillars, put them in a container, and feed them until they were fat. Then she would put sticks in with them and when they had formed chrysalis’, hang them on her clothesline. A while back she noticed that once fat, the caterpillars would shrivel and die, and that a tiny wasp would exit the corpse. Now she collects the egg masses from milkweed and raises them from scratch. She has promised me a ready supply of seeds.

I told her that I had reports of Monarchs on dill, and she said “No, Swallow-tail butterflies eat dill.” @gailcalled. Don’t take offense, I’m just repeating what I was told.

You should see all the butterflies on her workplace fence-ditch about now!

gailcalled's avatar

@ibstubro: My sister also corrected me (I was too busy having surgery to fix things here. Sorry).

ibstubro's avatar

It wasn’t a correction, @gailcalled, it was information.

gailcalled's avatar

I was spreading misinformation, which I don’t like doing. And of course, I take no offense.)

gailcalled's avatar

(—Correction; a change that rectifies an error or inaccuracy—-)

gailcalled's avatar

FWIW, I have some small white cabbage butterflies flitting around the flowers today.

Here2_4's avatar

There were hardly any in my yard this year. I miss them. I hope there are lots again next summer.
I saw maybe half a dozen monarchs in my own yard this summer.
Maybe they have all gone off to keep my kids company.

ibstubro's avatar

I found a huge patch of milkweed today, in stages from blown out to still green pods. I’m so excited. In the next day or two I’m going to visit the greenhouse up the road from me and see if I can get him to start some plants next spring.

I need to check if there are any tips on-line for harvesting the seed from the blow-by, as I have several requests for seed-sharing.

ibstubro's avatar

VERY cool, @Here2_4! Thanks! I’m going to try shaking them in a paper bag.

I’m still going to let the floss loose outside, though, because it’s fun. :)

ibstubro's avatar

Update:

I’m having success in finding and harvesting a good number of milkweed seeds. Today I found the perfect patch: large seeds with a deep, rich coffee color that had nearly weed-free access. And I only saw one bug (a tiny spider)!

Today I ‘picked’ some of the seeds, which is fun for a while (especially if there is a breeze and you get to let the floss fly), but tedious. Today I tried the bag method, and it was all that and a bag of milkweed floss! I used a paper sack from the grocery intended for frozen foods – i.e. a lunch sack as sturdy as a paper grocery bag. Throw the seed pods in, roll the top, and shake , shake, shake. Then cut a hole in one corner about the size of the end of your pinky. Hold the hole over a large bowl or bucket and shake. May not a lot happen at first, but soon seeds will fall. When the seeds get slow, shake (hole up) the bag vigorously and repeat. When I started getting a good part of the seed from the bag, I found it helped to stop and pull whatever floss and stuff that I could out of the hole. Separate any seeds you pull out. Finally, I opened the bag, stuck my hand in, and rolled the remaining floss around in my hand. A final shake over the bowl and I tossed the contents of the bag into the part of my roadside ditch that’s unmowed. I’m giving seeds to some friends, and even mailing them in-country/zone to a Fluther friend or 2.

Today I scouted an areas with 100’s of plants, likely 1,000’s of pods! We need to campaign for less mowing of interstate access ramps and road ditches.

If anyone has any questions about my personal milkweed plant project, feel free to PM. I’m starting to get a feel for where they live and how to harvest them.

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