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Protecting Monarch Butterflies

Imagine having grandchildren who never see a live monarch butterfly in their lifetime. This is a realistic scenario. Over the past 20 years, the monarch butterfly population has declined by nearly 90%.

Each monarch butterfly is a miracle on the wing.

Monarch butterflies face numerous challenges. They can eat only one type of food (milkweed) in order to grow to adulthood - no exceptions. Their food supply is rapidly disappearing due to agricultural herbicide use and urban sprawl. As adults, they must fly thousands of miles to overwinter. If they survive the journey, they frequently find that their winter forests are shrinking in size as local residents clear the land to grow crops. Adverse weather patterns due to climate change often kill large numbers of monarchs as they migrate and overwinter.In light of these obstacles, a few of the 700 eggs laid by each monarch butterfly will grow to adulthood. One or two of them will reproduce. In June of 2019, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service will rule on whether to place the once abundant monarch butterfly on the endangered species list.

Want to help? It's as easy as planting some milkweed. 

Read about the migration of the monarch butterfly at the United States Dept. of Agriculture.

Look at monarch population data at and Monarch Joint Venture.

 More information on monarch butterfly conservation:

​​Milkweed region maps:

YOU can be part of the solution by growing milkweed and late-blooming native flowers to replace lost habitat and restore monarch butterfly corridors. It doesn't matter how much you plant... every little bit counts. 

What do the experts say?

  • "Monarch butterflies are at risk of extinction and action is needed across their range to bring them back." (Sarina Jepsen, Endangered Species Program Director; Xerces Society, Feb. 2018)
  • "The best thing you can do is to provide habitat for monarchs and just let them do their thing.” (Sarina Jepsen, Endangered Species Program Director for the Xerces Society; National Geographic, Oct. 2017)
  • "Monarch butterfly populations are declining due to loss of habitat. To assure a future for monarchs, conservation and restoration of milkweeds needs to become a national priority." (Chip Taylor, Director, Monarch Watch, May 2017)

  • "... a lack of late-flowering nectar sources along the (southward) route also may be a significant contributor. Monarch adults feed on flowers, including milkweed flowers, before and during their southern migration. If they are suffering from a lack of nutrition during migration, it could make them more susceptible to other stresses.” (Diana Yates, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, March 2017)

  • ​​"By including milkweeds in gardens, landscaping, wildlife habitat restoration projects, and native revegetation efforts, you can provide breeding habitat for monarchs and a valuable nectar source for butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects." (The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Aug. 2015)
  • "Penn State Horticulture Educator Tom Maloney... 'absolutely' encourages people to plant milkweed in their garden to help the monarch butterflies, noting there are many varieties." (The Daily Review, Aug. 2015)​
  • “The monarch doesn’t care where the milkweed grows, and putting it in residential neighborhoods makes perfect sense. It will demonstrate that a united effort by a lot of people can make a difference.” (Doug Tallamy, University of Delaware entomologist, author, and expert on wildlife habitat gardens; Washington Post, Jun. 2015)
  • "Habitat loss on breeding grounds in the United States -- not on wintering grounds in Mexico -- is the main cause of recent and projected population declines of migratory monarch butterflies in eastern North America..." (University of Guelph, June 2014)
  • "There's no place that's too small... Just incorporating some of our native milkweeds could make a difference." (Gail Morris, Southwest Monarch Study; Arizona Republic, Apr. 2014)​

  • "A successful monarch habitat project on a utility right-of-way holds the promise of supporting the wondrous migration of monarch butterflies." (Mary Rager, Laurie Davies Adams, and Vicki Wojcik; Monarch Joint Venture, 2013) ​

  • "Conservationists concerned about the potential loss of milkweed habitat have recommended planting milkweed in yards and gardens." (Dennis O'Brien, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Oct. 2012)​

Which species of milkweed should I plant?

The easiest milkweed to cultivate is Asclepias curassavica, also known as tropical milkweed. The seeds of this milkweed do not need stratification (cold treatment before planting) and can be planted right away. This is the all-time favorite milkweed for monarch butterflies. Other popular milkweed species that do well in North America are Asclepias speciosa, Asclepias syriaca, and Asclepias tuberosa.

There has been recent media coverage claiming that people who grow non-native Asclepias curassavica are "trapping" monarchs in North America and keeping them from making their migrations into Mexico. We asked our milkweed expert at the Biota of North America Program about this claim, which he refuted. According to Dr. John Kartesz, director of the Biota of North America Program, "all species of milkweed* can be promoted and grown for restoration purposes. Some environmental purists might argue that species like Asclepias curassavicaAsclepias speciosa, Asclepias syriaca, and Asclepias tuberosa, being adventive (non-native) in a few states, might best be avoided there; however, I disagree. These are non-invasive species and fine for planting. All other milkweeds are fair game!" Dr. Kartesz continued, "I personally love this species (Asclepias curassavica) and grow it in my own garden. It is one of the most striking of all the milkweeds, very easy to obtain, easy to grow, and so much has been done with its genetics that regardless of what we say, people will continue to plant it." Dr. Kartesz did mention that Asclepias curassavica, being a non-native plant to North America, would best be avoided in (large scale) reclamation projects. Fortunately, there are many other species of milkweed to choose from if you are planting acres of land.

*Except for Asclepias fruticosa, which is known in only one county in Florida and a few counties in California, and Asclepias physocarpa, which is known only in Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

Photo credit: Planting milkweed by Flickr user US Fish & Wildlife Service Southeast Region under CC BY 2.0