Helenruth Schuette/Beltrami Master Gardener: Think of a monarch and smile
Given the great number of Monarchs butterflies (as many as 100 million) that gather to migrate each fall, it is hard to imagine them facing a threat of extinction.
Monarchs travel farther than all other tropical butterflies, up to 3,000 miles. They are the only butterfly to make such a long two-way migration every year. They fly en masse and often to the exact same trees. They make the trip only once. It is their children’s children that return south the following fall.
Monarchs cannot survive long cold winters. Monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains travel to small groves of trees along the California coast. Those east of the Rocky Mountains fly farther south to forests high in the mountains of Mexico. The Monarchs migration is driven by seasonal change. Day length and temperature changes influence their movements.
When the late summer and early fall Monarchs emerge from their pupae, or chrysalides, they are biologically and behaviorally different from those emerging earlier. The shorter days and cooler air of late summer triggers change. In Minnesota, this occurs at about the end of August.
The Monarchs won’t mate or lay eggs until the following spring. They are preparing for their strenuous flight. Because they are cold-blooded, they cannot fly in cold weather. Scientists have many questions concerning the long flights and homing to foreign destinations. Human activities have diminished the natural habitat of all butterflies. Use of herbicides and pesticides directly impacts plants that butterflies and other pollinators need for survival.
One thing we can do to assist them is to plant a butterfly garden. These colorful gardens can use native plants, making maintenance easier. Include plants that flower throughout the season to provide nectar and color spring through fall. Milkweed is necessary for monarch larvae to feed. A healthy butterfly garden will look “eaten.”
Butterflies pay less attention to people than birds so you can sit nearby and watch. If you wear bright colors, they may even mistake you for a nectar source and visit you up close.
I used information gathered from www.monarchwatch.org — it lists plants, pollinators and other useful information.
On April 22, the arboretum in Chanhassen, Minn., is celebrating Earth Day with a program from 1 to 5 p.m. featuring the latest information on the decline of the pollinator populations. From May 17 through Aug. 17, the arboretum is featuring “Butterflies: Beauty in Flight.” The conservatory will be filled with live butterflies native to Minnesota as well as common plants that sustain them. Search the title, “Butterflies: Beauty in Flight” to reach a site with specific information about cost, time and location. Butterflies are so beautiful; I hope we see them thrive in the years to come.
Watch for further information on butterflies, bees and other pollinators and how we can do our part to help these lovely creatures. Master Gardeners will be providing other information through articles and other means. We will inform you of our efforts through this column.
Check with the University of Minnesota Extension website — www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/ — for more information on all pollinators, on gardening, and other horticultural topics.
Local Master Gardeners will again be answering your questions on home horticulture. Call (218) 444-7916, leave your name, number and question and you will receive a return phone call.