Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Garden For The Monarch Butterflies

© Donna L. Watkins
Monarch Feeding on Sedum Nectar
View Another Monarch Enlarged View
Monarch butterflies are returning to backyards across much of the country after migrating hundreds or thousands of miles from coastal California (monarchs that spend summer west of the Rocky Mountains) or central Mexico (those that summer east of the Rockies).

One key to the success of these widespread and beloved butterflies is the species’ special relationship with milkweed plants. As most wildlife gardeners know, monarchs lay their eggs only on milkweeds. The caterpillars hatch, eat the leaves and, in the process, ingest cardenolides, powerful toxins found in milkweed sap. The poison does not harm caterpillars but makes them—and later adult butterflies—unpalatable to potential predators, a critical defense mechanism.

“There is a milkweed for every situation,” says John Schneider, who owns Wildtype Design, Native Plants and Seed, Ltd., a nursery in Mason, Michigan. Of the slightly more than 100 species native to North America, here are 5 that are easy to grow. All five are  deer and rabbit resistant and support a variety of other insects, including several species that, like monarchs, depend on milkweed for survival.

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