Monarch Population Declines

The Center for Biological Diversity, along with over 20 other conservation organizations, has called on Congress to provide more than $100 million per year for the conservation of monarch butterflies to help stem their rapid population decline.

The latest annual count for the eastern monarch butterfly population was the second-lowest ever recorded. The population declined by nearly 60% from the previous year and is only 1/6 of the size needed to be out of the danger zone of migratory collapse. The western population of monarchs, which famously winters on the California coast each year, remains at just 5% of what it once was.

The eastern monarch butterfly population in 2024 is only 1/6 of the size needed to be out of the danger zone of migratory collapse. Credit: Center for Biological Diversity

“More than America’s most beloved butterfly, the monarch is a symbol of wonder, transformation and resilience,” said Stephanie Kurose, deputy director of government affairs at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This may be Congress’ last chance to save monarchs before they become the face of the extinction crisis.”

Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) fly during the day, typically traveling alone. They do not migrate in flocks like many birds.

The migration of monarch butterflies has been moving towards extinction because of landscape-scale threats from pesticides, development and habitat loss in the United States. The loss of overwintering habitat in Mexico is also an existential threat to the monarchs’ future. The oyamel fir stands where the eastern population of monarchs roost are threatened by illegal logging, land conversion for farming, and climate change.

Conservation organizations are asking that Congress to spend $100 million per year to restore 1 million acres of milkweed and pollinator habitat in the U.S. They also are asking Congress to increase funding for the U.S. Forest Service’s International Program to ramp up its efforts in Mexico to combat illegal logging and provide additional capacity for local communities to sustainably manage the monarchs’ overwintering habitat.

An area affected by illegal logging in 2015. Image by José Arnulfo Blanco García.

“The status quo of paltry funding and half-baked policies doesn’t work,” said Kurose. “If we let monarchs go extinct when we could have saved them, that’s a moral failure on our part.”

These are monarch butterflies roosting on an Oyamel fir tree in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, Mexico. (Image courtesy of Eligio Garcia-Serrano (Monarch Fund, Zitácuaro, Mexico) and Ambiente Cielo Rojo)

“With monarch butterflies now down 90 percent in the last 20 years, we simply must do more if we are going to be successful in reversing monarch butterfly decline. We must continue working together to help save the monarch butterfly and reverse the overall trend of declining wildlife populations in the United States.” Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

Click here to learn ways you can help our monarch butterflies. (Four Things You Can Do To Help the Monarchs by Hannah Rosengren.)



Plant Native Wildflowers to Attract Butterflies!

For gardeners who like easy-care plants, native wildflowers can be the foundation of the garden. They’re easy to grow, never weedy, and they attract and nourish wildlife, including birds, bees, beneficial insects, and butterflies.

Click here to find these seeds as well as other native flowers that attract butterflies.

Whether you like to start flowers from seed or transplants, these easy-growing wildflowers won’t require spraying for pests and diseases or copious amounts of chemical fertilizers to light up your landscape. Plus, they generally are quite tolerant of poor soils and dry conditions, which means you won’t need to amend the soil or be too compulsive about your watering duties.

  1. Native wildflowers are extremely easy to grow. They create easy, low-maintenance color in almost any sunny spot, needing little water once established.
  2. Native wildflowers help our pollinators. Native wildflowers are integral to pollinators’ survival. Planting a wildflower meadow gives bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds a nectar buffet to feed on all season long.
  3. Native wildflowers are good for the environment. Native plants help reduce air pollution sequester or remove, carbon from the air.
  4. Native wildflowers do not require fertilizers and require fewer pesticides than lawns. Pesticides are the number one killer of not only butterflies, but also bees, and moths and other pollinators.
  5. Native wildflowers require less water and help prevent erosion.
    The deep root systems of many native plants increase the soil’s capacity to store water. Native plants can significantly reduce water runoff and, consequently, flooding.
  6. Native wildflowers provide spectacular color and beauty. There’s nothing more awe-inspiring than a wildflower garden or meadow bursting in bloom.
  7. Wildflowers are fun. Whether you’re a new gardener or a seasoned pro, growing, caring for, and cutting wildflowers for summer bouquets is a lot of fun.
A flower bouquet of wildflowers dresses up a table.

Here are resources to help you learn more about native wildflowers by state and region:

USDA Gardening for Pollinators

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center: Plant Lists and Collections

Here are books about using native plants to attract butterflies:

Gardening for Butterflies: How You Can Attract and Protect Beautiful, Beneficial Insects by The Xerces Society. Click here to purchase:
Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded by Douglas W. Tallamy Click here to purchase:
ADVICE FROM A WILDFLOWER Open up and show your true colors in this original flower design.

Florida Butterflies and the Plants They Love

Florida is a paradise for butterflies! About 160 butterfly species are native to Florida, while around 200 species migrate through the state. Many butterflies in Florida are unique and cannot be found anywhere else in North America. You can invite many of these butterflies into your yard by including nectar plants for adult butterflies. But it takes more than nectar to entice butterflies to take up residence in your garden.

Larval host plants are the secret to successful butterfly gardening; they are plants required by a caterpillar for growth and development. By planting host plants in your garden, you offer a promise of food for the next generation and will attract more butterflies than you thought possible.

My favorite butterfly and the state butterfly of Florida is the Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius). Female Zebra Longwings lay their eggs on Passion Vines (Passiflora spp.), but their favorite seems to be Corkystem Passionflower (Passiflora suberosa) and Maypop (Passiflora incarnata).

Female Zebra Longwings will lay their eggs in clusters on the leave tips or tendrils of the passion vine.

Passionvines are also used as host plants by a few other species of butterflies that are found in Florida including the Gulf Fritillary, Julia Longwing,  and the Variegated Fritillary .

Purple Passionflower, also known as Maypop, and Corkystem are Florida natives and favored by the Zebra Longwing and Julia Longwing. Blue Passionflower is one of the hardiest of varieties of Passiflora.

Florida also host monarch butterflies. Many monarch chose to head to Florida for the winter and many chose to live year-round in “The Sunshine State.” Monarchs need milkweed to survive and there are many varieties that will grow in the state. The most common milkweed grown in gardens is Tropical milkweed but there are also native varieties that are easy to grow from seed. Monarchs are not the only butterfly to use milkweed as a host plant for their larvae, but Queen butterflies will also lay eggs on milkweed.

Deluxe seed collection of five native Florida milkweed species can be purchased here:

Partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) is an herbaceous annual or short-lived native perennial that has yellow flowers that attract pollinators and bloom from late spring to late autumn and year-round in South Florida. The flowers provides pollen for a number of other insects and birds relish the seed pods that follow the flowers. Partridge Pea is the larval host for Cloudless Sulphur, Sleepy Orange, Gray Hairstreak, Ceraunus Blue, and Little Yellow butterflies.

To purchase Partridge Peas seeds click here:

Carolina Wild Petunia (Ruellia caroliniensis) a native wildflower found in moist to wet hammocks, flatwoods and sandhills, and along roadsides and in disturbed sites. It typically blooms in late spring through late summer/early fall. A source of nectar for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. The plant is a host for the several butterfly species including the Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia), White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae), and Malachite (Siproeta stelenes) butterfly.

To purchase Carolina Wild Petunia seeds click here:

False Nettle (Boehmeria cylindrical) lacks the stinging hairs of its nettle cousins. It prefers medium-wet and semi-shady sites. Stringy heads of tiny yellow-green flowers form between leaf stems in summer. Moths and butterflies are attracted to this modest plant. It serves as a host plant for the larvae of several butterflies including the Red Admiral, Eastern Comma, and Question Mark butterflies. The larvae of the Flowing-line Bomolocha moth also use it as a host.

To Purchase Smallspike False Nettle seeds click here:

English Plantain (Plantago Lanceolata) also known as Lance Leaf Plantain, Narrow-leaf Plantain and Ribwort Plantain is a perennial herb that has been used since ancient times as a medicinal herb. Songbirds frequent these plants once their flowers have gone to seed. It is the host plant for the Painted Lady and the Common Buckeye butterflies as well as various moths. It can be aggressive so if you are wanting to keep it contained, it grows well in a container.

To purchase English Plantain seeds click here:

Common Rue (Ruta graveolens) is a 2-3 foot tall and wide shrub-like perennial herb with aromatic evergreen fern-like, leaves and with small yellow flowers. It is an especially useful plant for inviting pollinators to the garden, with bees and butterflies being particularly fond of the yellow flowers. It is the host plant to the Eastern Black Swallowtail, and Giant Swallowtail butterflies.

Wash hands or other body parts that contact the plant with soap after handling, as the plant can cause photosensitive dermititis in predisposed individuals.

Wooly Dutchman’s Pipe is a deciduous, woody, climbing, and twining vine. It grows rapidly to 20-30 feet tall. The dense foliage would make them an ideal plant for an arbor or trellis.  It is also the larval host plant for the Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly and the Gold Rim Swallowtail. (Please be aware exotic Aristolochia species are toxic to Pipevine Swallowtail larvae including Aristolochia gigantea and Aristolochia elegans.)

These are just a few of the butterflies you can attract in your Florida garden by planting these host plants for their developing larvae.

Purchase this deluxe seed collection of seven native Florida species of host and nectar plants to attract butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and other pollinators:

Seed Sitters

Native plant seeds can be quite easy to propagate, but they have some special needs. Over thousands of years, native plants have evolved to take a rest over the winter months, before sprouting in the spring. This means that for most native seeds, they need winter conditions to propagate. During the winter, seeds undergo a process called cold-moist stratification, which helps prepare the seeds for spring germination.

There are many ways to plant seeds so that they go through this process of cold moist stratification:
  • Plant seeds in fall so that nature provides the winter conditions needed to stratify the seeds and expose them to cold and moist conditions.
  • Winter sowing is another method that allows Mother Nature to cold stratify milkweed seeds. Winter sowing is the process where seeds are sowed outdoors in the winter, typically in milk jug, or any other plastic container with a lid.
  • Plant seeds in spring after cold stratifying seeds in the refrigerator for 4-8 weeks.

I recently discover a very easy way to grow native milkweed and wildflower seeds called Seed Sitters which was created by the David Suzuki Foundation. Seed Sitters is an inexpensive and simple way to grow native milkweeds and other native plants through winter sowing on a balcony on in a backyard.

You can download this infographic from the David Suzuki Foundation website:

Additional Resources:

 Seed Sitters instruction sheet.
Cliffcrest Butterflyway
Wild Seed Project

Winter is the Best Time to Start a Butterfly Garden!

It may seem a bit strange to be writing about starting a butterfly garden in winter, but this is the best time to start those seeds. Really!

If you want your butterfly garden to look like this you need to start now!

If you live in the south where it never freezes sowing milkweed seeds and native perennial seeds in the winter will give you a helpful head start to a beautiful growing season. But even those of you who live where it freezes in the wintertime can start your seeds in the depth of winter by using the winter sow method.

Winter sowing is a method of starting seeds outdoors in winter. This is generally done with seeds that require a period of cold stratification. Click here to learn more about winter sowing.

And if you just want to wait until spring to start seeds, you will still need to prepare those seeds now. Most perennial plant seeds such as native milkweed and native wildflowers require a combination of cold and damp to germinate. Cold stratification, also known as seed stratification, is the process of exposing seeds to cold and moist conditions to encourage germination. In nature, the stratification process takes place when fallen seeds overwinter underground or beneath a layer of snow. But you can accomplish the process yourself by replicating Mother Nature.

Most native milkweed and native perennial seeds require cold stratification to germinate and grow into healthy plants.
How to Stratify Seeds in the Refrigerator

Follow these steps to cold stratify your seeds in the fridge.

1. Place the seeds in a damp medium. Seeds can be sprinkled onto a damp paper towel or can be placed in a moist medium such as peat moss, sand, or vermiculite. Ensure that the medium is moist but not soaking wet.

2. Store the moist seeds in a plastic bag. Once your seeds are wrapped in a damp paper towel or planted in a moist growing medium, place them in a plastic bag. Be sure to label the bag with the name of the seeds and the date.

3. Place the bag in the fridge.  The time you need to keep your seeds in the refrigerator depends on the variety, but 4-6 weeks should be enough time for most seed varieties. After the recommended days of cold moist stratification are done, you can direct sow the seeds outside in the spring after the last frost under a very light amount of soil or you can start them in containers with soil. The simple, quick process of cold stratification helps the seed germinate quicker and grow more readily in your garden bed.

Learn how to plant wildflowers in the spring.

Native Milkweed Seeds That Require Cold Stratification
Click here to find seeds:
Native Flower Seeds That Require Cold Stratification
Click here to find seeds: