Populations of the monarch butterfly remain low. The population east of the Rocky Mountains, which overwinters in Mexico, fell 53 percent from the previous year’s count. Those west of the Rockies, which overwinter in California, tallied in near last year’s record low just over 29,000 individuals.
Habitat loss, particularly the loss of milkweed plants, which are the only plants on which monarch caterpillars feed, is one factor contributing to the monarch’s decline. Planting milkweed in yards, prairies, and field edges is an easy way to help monarchs. However, myths and misconceptions keep some people from helping monarchs in this way. Let’s set these myths straight so you can feel comfortable taking this important step to help monarchs.
- Milkweed is not an invasive weed. Common milkweed and most other milkweed species found throughout the United States are native, beneficial wildflowers. It is listed by neither the United States, nor by any state, as a noxious weed. Since there are many species, make sure to choose species native to your region. Farmers for Monarchs, an initiative of the Keystone Monarch Collaborative, has state-specific planting online resources available, like free or subsidized seed, technical assistance, and links to state and federal cost-share programs.
- Milkweed is not dangerous to livestock, pets or children. Milkweeds do contain trace amounts of a toxin called cardenolides, and animals must consume large quantities for it to be toxic. As long as forage is available, animals will not be inclined to eat milkweed. Milkweed also has a foul taste, making it unlikely that children will want to eat. Proper instruction about milkweed should be given to avoid accidental ingestion.
- Monarchs are not the only species to benefit from milkweed. There are many species that eat milkweed leaves or seeds, like milkweed beetles, large milkweed bugs, and tussock moths. Predators, such as crab spiders, mantises, and tree frogs prey on the many insect species that frequent and depend upon milkweed.
These are only a few of the misconceptions about milkweed. As more landowners and farmers commit to restoring pollinator habitat, we encourage them to look beyond the myth, learn the benefits, and support pollinators like the monarch butterfly.
As more landowners and farmers commit to restoring pollinator habitat, we encourage them to look beyond the myth and learn the many benefits of planting milkweed. The Keystone Monarch Collaborative and Monarch Joint Venture – a partnership of organizations working to protect monarch migration – offer more resources on milkweed myths and restoring pollinator habitat on their websites. Farmers for Monarchs has also assembled state-specific resources and programs to help make planting monarch habitat easier and less expensive. See our State Planning Resources page for information on state and federal cost-share programs, technical assistance, seed providers, and more.