Monarch Butterfly Habitat Creation
The North American monarch butterfly migration is a highly anticipated annual spectacle. Butterflies who were born in northeastern states flood south, traveling up to 3000 miles to warmer overwintering grounds in Mexico and Florida. The mystery of this migration, as well as its display of fortitude, have awed observers for centuries and inspired a love of science and nature in many.
However, the migratory monarch population has declined as much as 95% in 20 years, due in large part to loss of their native habitat from changes in land use practices. Monarch caterpillars can only eat milkweed leaves, and the adults need nectar from flowers, but milkweed is disappearing from the American landscape. When farmers spray herbicide on crops that are genetically modified to be resistant, they eliminate plants such as milkweed that grow around farm fields and have no such protection. Urban sprawl also eats into open spaces that used to be full of nectar-producing wildflowers.
The League is partnering with landowners and other conservation groups to plant milkweed across the state to protect monarchs. We have a test site in North Charleston where we are using the information presented here to grow a wildflower plot that enhances both human communities and natural ones. In the process, we are establishing a local network of experts on native plants and coastal growing conditions. We are making sure the resources are in place for everyone to grow a successful butterfly garden.
I am a student from Wellesley College in Massachusetts, and I spent the summer of 2017 with the League helping to expand their outreach on this topic. I’m not from South Carolina, but I knew immediately that I would fall in love with the natural beauty of the coastal islands and marshes. This project is important to me because monarchs are a species that connects the whole country, the whole continent, in their sweeping yet delicate migration. We are also connected by the need to protect their habitat if we want them to keep coming back.
Monarch conservation is not just about the monarchs. It’s about all pollinators – bees, moths, hummingbirds, and other butterflies – and the problems that have devastated so many. Habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, and systemic pesticides affect each species differently but severely. Efforts to protect and restore monarch habitat help all pollinators, and all of us who eat food. Explore the links at the top of the page to see what you can do to help!