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Sylvia Fallon’s Blog

Give a gift of beauty -- plant milkweed this holiday season

Sylvia Fallon

Posted December 3, 2013 in Health and the Environment, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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Monarch butterflies are one of the great wonders of the natural world.   Tiny and seemingly fragile, these beautiful insects make an incredible journey each year from the forests of Mexico across the US to Canada and back again over the span of several generations – displaying their beauty and inspiring awe and wonder along their way.

       Monarchs

How the last generation finds its way back across hundreds or thousands of miles, to the same small part of Mexico where its great-great-grandparents originated in the spring, remains a profound mystery. Monarchs are wondrous in another way, too.  While they may look fragile, they actually pack a mean self-defense. They are poisonous to predators such as birds that might try to eat them.   Rather than hiding from foes, their orange wings send a bold warning: “if you mess with me, you will regret it.” So effective is this dangerous appearance that other, more edible butterflies, have evolved to mimic it.  Kind of makes you look at them differently, doesn’t it? 

Monarch caterpillarMonarchs get this poisonous defense from the milkweed plants they feed on as caterpillars.  In fact, they depend exclusively on milkweed for their reproduction.  But now monarchs and their unique annual migration are at risk of disappearing in large part because milkweed is disappearing.  Reason: the growing use of Monsanto’s popular weed killer, Round Up (also known as glyphosate), and the wide-scale adoption of genetically modified crops that are resistant to Round Up.  Over the span of just 10 years, as the use of so-called Round Up-ready corn and soybeans has increased across the Midwest, the number of monarch eggs in agricultural fields has dropped by 80%.  And just in the last year, the number of hectares occupied by monarchs back in Mexico dropped by almost 60% to its lowest level in almost two decades.  This year there are already reports that the returning numbers have dropped again.  

Experts say one of the best things we can do to help the monarchs is to plant milkweed anywhere we can – in our gardens, on our school grounds and our roadsides.  That’s why NRDC has partnered this year with MonarchWatch.org to offer the gift of milkweed planting.  MonarchWatch works with a nursery to grow milkweed plugs of different varieties from across the country and then makes these available to schools, small businesses and private citizens to plant on their grounds.  This year, when you give NRDC’s Green Gift of Milkweed, you will help MonarchWatch plant milkweed plants all throughout the range of the monarch’s migration.

It’s up to us to help ensure that future generations of Americans can witness the migratory marvel of the annual generations of the Monarchs. 

Click Here for NRDC's Green Gift of Milkweed.

Photo attribution: Wikimedia commons for Monarchs and Forest and Kim Starr for Caterpillar

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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