Milkweed for Migrating Monarchs

The first of five monarch caterpillars on milkweed in my garden.
The first of five monarch caterpillars on milkweed in my garden.

This story can also be read in The Cambrian

Embedded just over my right eye is a one-inch scar. I was a tad over three-years-old and a tad too close to a sharp hoe used to break up the desert soil for a garden. I was curious and anxious about this project. My godfather walloped that hoe into the clay soil and didn’t see me standing behind him when he raised the hoe toward the Spring sun, and WHACK!

“I nearly fainted when I heard you yowl, and turned to see you standing at my heels with blood running into your eye,” he recalled.

After my first set of stitches, he took me to the local farm supply and bought me my own kid-size set of garden tools. I had my own square of dirt to hoe, plant and rake without any further collisions with a sharpened hoe yielded by him, or any other adult.

So I can safely say that I’ve been gardening for more than a half-century. I’ve learned to appreciate the pollinators, bees, butterflies and moths. But I never shared an up close and personal relationship with them until this winter.

Monarch butterflies float and dance in my seaside garden. I assume they stop by for a snack as they make their way to one of their California coastal overwintering locales—two of them near my home.

When my friend added milkweed to her garden in the fall—about the same time I had read about the dangerous decline of the monarch butterfly due to the massive elimination of milkweed in our environment—I follOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAowed her lead and added milkweed to my garden.

You see, milkweed is essential to this butterfly’s survival. The monarch lays her eggs on milkweed and then that larvae eat the milkweed, form their chrysalides on the plant, and then morph into the butterfly.

What happened to milkweed? Monarchs and their milkweed, according to a recent Denver Post report are “..victims of prairie conversion and increasing use of herbicides on genetically modified crops, which kill milkweed and other plants that serve as habitat for pollinators.”

Genetically modified crops (GMC) increase. Monarch butterflies decrease. Their future, according the conservation group, Xerces Society, is troubling. The rapid decline of the monarch population over the last twenty years, has fueled an effort to list the species as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

I can’t imagine not mentally drifting alongside the orange and black wings of the king of butterflies floating in the air like winged flowers. And to imagine that there are those who call others who contest the wisdom of profuse GMCs in our environment flat-earthers!

Again, it comes down to conceptualizing that interconnectedness between you, me and the rest of our ilk to the beauty and value of the pollinating insect.

Which brings me back to my garden. A few weeks ago I announced on my Facebook page that I had new pets, two monarch caterpillars munching down one of the milkweed plants I put into my garden last fall. A few days later, another caterpillar appeared on another milkweed, and shortly thereafter, I had a total of five monarch caterpillars. They became a part of my daily conversation. Soon they would begin the process of metamorphosis, and for this I could barely stand the wait.

But, one by one, the caterpillars disappeared. One remained. It finally hung upside down to begin its

Last monarch caterpillar that beginning the chrysalis stage.
Last monarch caterpillar that beginning the chrysalis stage.

third phase into becoming a chrysalis. This I would journal with my camera every day. When I rushed out to check it the next day, it too, had disappeared.

Fortunately, my friend’s monarch caterpillars graduated into butterflies.

I haven’t changed much from that curious and anxious three-year-old who stood too close to a garden hoe in action. Milkweed has a permanent home in my yard, like that scar just over my right eye.


Learn more about butterfly highways and monarchs.

Monarch Watch

Xerces Society

Center for Biological Diversity


One thought on “Milkweed for Migrating Monarchs

  1. when I was a child growing up in Springfield, MA my favorite thing to do was watch anything nature. i watched birds, rescued baby birds and squirrels that fell out of nests, and had a very solemn funeral for a dead mouse…complete with headstone that stated “Here Lies Mousey Collins”. I would watch a parade of ants for hours that found a dead bug and would bring soldiers to struggle with that monster to bring back to their little mounds and drag them down into the openings of the little holes that were hardly large enough o accommodate the prize,, then spend time across the street from my home where there was a lovely brook, jack in the pulpit, skunk cabbage, and a natural spring. I would occasionally put a worm on a hook at the end of a string on the end of a stick, and maybe catch a small brook trout, that my Mother wanted so badly she would actually clean that poor thing, saying ” Yuck! Yuck! Yuck!” the whole time, and then “YUM!” Occasionally in those woods I would find a Lady Slipper orchid, which I unwittingly picked and brought home. Sounds like you and I had similar thoughts while growing up

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