I’ve planted my share of milkweed over the years, but not like you would think. As an outdoor-loving child that liked to explore and touch and investigate, the milkweed plant was one of my favorites. I don’t remember the first time I actually knew the name of the tall plant with milk in its veins and those wonderful pods that would explode with white silky threads. My small hands routinely rubbed that white sticky substance between my fingers (and yes, I am sure I tasted it!), and pulled open those green pods excited to touch what was inside.
The seeds with wings were intriguing to me, but I am not sure I was aware that when I blew them into the wind, I was actually “planting” them. How sad today, that it is difficult for a child explorer like me to even find a milkweed plant, much less experience the fun of blowing the seeds into the wind. How very sad too that the loss of this plant could mean the loss of another of nature’s marvels, the monarch butterfly.
The milkweed plant is the only plant where monarchs lay eggs. Monarch caterpillars feed on the toxic leaves and become “toxic” themselves to protect from predators. This same toxin also prevents monarch butterflies from most predators. Nature has a way of protecting them, but our own thoughtlessness, unless we make some changes, can destroy them.
The wings of a monarch remind me of a map. Each black line describes a road that leads to the trip of a lifetime! Most of us will never travel 3000 miles from home, but some monarchs do. Maybe that was nature’s intention in the design of the wings; to show us a road map that reminds us of how this amazing insect flies thousands of miles in migration from Canada and the United States to Mexico. How can we not want to protect something that is so delicate yet strong enough to survive this trip?
Homero Aridjis, a Mexican poet and environmentalist describes his home town during the migration:
“In Contepec that morning, thousands of monarch butterflies were crossing the village.The air, like a river, bore currents of butterflies through the streets, above the houses, between the trees and people as they made their way south.”
His description is truly a picture of what it must be like to experience this. Two decades ago, over a billion monarchs could be found in the forests of Mexico in winter. Today those only number about 33 million. All of us need to be alarmed at the 90% loss of such a wonderful and important insect.
It doesn’t take much to observe that the loss of habitat in Mexico, and loss of the host plant for monarch caterpillars in our country is the cause of the decline. Our country’s role is in the destruction of milkweed for farming interests. There may not be a place for milkweed where crops are grown, but there are many places where it can be planted to help save the monarchs; along roadways, prairies, and backyards. All of us can be a part of bringing back the milkweed plant.
So why should we care? A teacher in Minnesota asked her ninth grade class this question when studying the decline of monarchs. Here is one answer from a student that says it all.
“Monarchs show me what it is like to be prosperous and having abundance, something that I want personally. When everything is good, there are plenty of milkweeds, and plenty of habitat in Mexico. When I witness things going bad, with the logging of their habitat in Mexico, and loss of habitat in our country, then I move from a sense of prosperity to one of loss. Like the poet John Dunn said – No man is an island. Every man’s death diminishes me - And every factor that threatens the monarch, affects me and diminishes me.”
I don’t want my children and grandchildren to experience a diminished life from the loss of a species or any part of nature in their lifetimes. I don’t want anyone to experience that. Each of us should feel the responsibility of preserving something that has been on this earth for millions of years. No one wants milkweed and monarch destruction to occur on “our watch.” One simple solution is to make an effort to restore the critical milkweed plant. If you don’t have a backyard to plant it in, find a place where you can have permission to grow it. Promote it in your own area through highway departments and public places.
Then, don’t forget to take some time to enjoy the milkweed you planted. Open up and explore one of those ripened green pods and feel the silky white membranes with a brown seed attached that float in the wind when you release them. Be satisfied that you dispatched some milkweed seeds on their way to grow into a plant that will save the monarch butterfly.
TO DO LIST:
· Post your thoughts on this blog, and other social media to share with others what you are doing to help monarchs.
· Find websites with more information like Monarch Watch, and this one in Missouri. http://mdc.mo.gov/your-property/wildlife-your-property/backyard-wildlife/backyard-habitat-monarch-butterflies
· For fun! Solve this puzzle and be the first to reply in this blog if you find the answer!
Where on earth can you find “white” monarchs?