BLOOMINGTON — You can help make life easier for monarch butterflies threatened by loss of habitat where they winter in Mexico and breed and feed in the United States.
“More people are becoming aware of the plight of monarchs and are planting milkweed,” noted Given Harper, an Illinois Wesleyan University biology professor.
Milkweed is the only plant on which monarchs will lay their eggs and it provides protection from predators.
Kansas-based Monarch Watch is selling milkweed “plugs” — milkweed plants about 3 to 4 inches tall that have been established for three to four months.
Chip Taylor, Monarch Watch director, said milkweed varieties are particularly suited to the areas where they will be planted and they have had an 85 percent success rate with milkweed planted in the fall surviving the winter.
‘Butterfly way stations’
Monarch Watch is encouraging people to create “butterfly way stations” that provide not only places to lay eggs but also food for the butterflies’ journey. The group recommends a variety of nectar plants — including milkweed, of course — at a density of two to 10 plants per square yard.
Sugar Grove Nature Center at Funks Grove put in a butterfly way station last year that is doing well, according to Janet Rasmussen, a staff member at the center and vice president of the Illinois Prairie chapter of Wild Ones. She said youths who were part of the Nature Fun Club nursed the garden through last year’s drought.
“If you can at least get people to think about putting milkweed in their yards … that’s useful,” Rasmussen said. “I just put some in my yard two years ago and they found it.”
Tours of the nature center’s way station will be part of the center’s annual Hummingbird Festival and Pollination Celebration from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 31.
Kay Hendrichs of rural Bloomington, who tags butterflies for research purposes through Monarch Watch, also will participate in the event, providing monarch information and a tagging demonstration — if monarchs show up.
Hendrichs has a way station in her yard that includes common milkweed, swamp milkweed, silky red and butterflyweed.
Other ways to help monarchs is to buy organic foods rather than genetically-modified crops treated with herbicide and limit — or eliminate — mowing of roadsides and other areas where milkweed grow, according to Michael Toliver, a Eureka College biology professor whose specialty is butterflies.