Tag Archives: gardening

Flowers for Fall-Migrating Monarch Butterflies

One of the surest ways to see fall-migrating Monarch butterflies is to plant flowers that attract them. Monarchs will drop from the sky for the nectar they need for energy during fall migrations.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) on Lantana (Lantana camara). Photo courtesy Tiago J. G. Fernandes. Used with permission.

The Monarchs will search for nectar plants the entire time they are traveling to their winter roosting sites in Mexico. Gardens can provide a place for the migrating monarchs so they can refuel and continue their journey. Help Monarchs by planting flowers that bloom late into the fall such as the flowers listed below.

Asters (Aster spp.) are a favorite of Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) in the fall, particularly the New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae).

Monarch on aster

Monarch nectaring on Aster.

Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.), including Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) and Swamp Sunflowers (Helianthus angustifolius) are late bloomers and provide nectar for migrating Monarchs.

Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia)

Monarch nectaring on Swamp Sunflower. Photo courtesy LuGene Peterson. Used with permission.

Many Lantanas are still blooming.  I had several Monarchs stop in late October in my North Carolina, USA, garden to sip the nectar from ‘Miss Huff’ Lantana (Lantana camara ‘Miss Huff’)

Monarch butterfly nectaring on ‘Miss Huff’ Lantana.

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) is a wonderful fall blooming perennial and is one of the major nectar sources for the Monarchs’ trip back to Mexico.

The brilliant purple-crimson bloom of Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata) is very attractive to Monarchs. See some spectacular photos of Monarchs on Ironweed at the Flower Hill Farm Retreat.

Monarch sampling Ironweed nectar.

Other great nectar flowers to plant for fall-migrating Monarchs include
Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea).

Monarch butterfly goes to work on a Purple Coneflower in the garden.

Autumn Joy Stonecrop (Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’) burst into bloom in fall. If left standing, they provide winter interest and food for birds.

Migrating Monarchs stop by the Flower Hill Farm Retreat to feed on the blooms on “Autumn Joy” Sedum. Photo courtesy Carol Ann Duke. Used with permission.

Blazing Star  (Liatris spicata)

Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)

Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

The Monarchs flock to the Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum).

Joe Pye Weed, Monarch Butterfly

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Hope for the Butterflies

I was thrilled when I discovered these Coontie bushes in a yard in West Palm Beach, Florida, USA. Yes, I know, they’re bare. But, that is actually good news because it means there’ve been caterpillars feeding on the leaves. And those caterpillars turn into cute little Atala butterflies!

Coontie plants

Coontie (Zamia integrifolia) plants that have been stripped of most leaves by hungry Atala (Eumaeus atala) caterpillars in West Palm Beach, Florida, USA. The plants will rejuvenate themselves in a few weeks, stimulated by their natural pruning.

This is significant because, at one point, the Atala butterfly, native to south Florida, was thought extinct during the mid 1960s. Atala butterflies use Coontie as the host plant for their caterpillars. Coontie is a small, tough, woody palm-like perennial plant.

Healthy Coontie plants

Healthy Coontie plants.

It was used by Native Americans and later by European settlers who processed the Coontie’s large storage root to extract an edible starch, which was used to make bread. Settlers continued the practice on an industrial level and by the early 1900s several commercial factories in south Florida processed Coontie roots for the manufacture of arrowroot biscuits.

Arrowroot biscuit advertisement

Vintage advertisement for Arnott’s Milk Arrowroot Biscuits.

Coontie plants started disappearing throughout Florida, and so did the Atala butterfly. By 1965, federal and state authorities thought the Atala was extinct.

Atala butterfly

Atala butterfly with its jet black, neon blue and orange markings.

Coontie has made a comeback because Sunshine State gardeners have rediscovered the native plant is well adapted to Florida yards. Its increased use in landscapes has encouraged the presence of the Atala butterfly. The Atala butterfly is now thriving, once again, in southern Florida.

Atala chrysalises

Atala chrysalises on Coontie with their fancy orange and yellow colors mimicking Coontie seeds for camouflage.

This is significant. Why? It means that you can make a huge impact protecting butterflies by growing the right plants in your yard. Currently, Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterfly populations are in decline because native Milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.), which Monarchs use as hosts for their caterpillars, are disappearing from farm fields and roadsides where milkweeds used to thrive.

Karen Oberhauser, monarch expert and professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, said, “North American gardeners can contribute by planting milkweed and making their land more butterfly friendly. Given the conservation challenges facing monarchs, it’s vitally important that we mobilize as many people as possible. Through our collective efforts, monarch populations can rebound, so that their migrations may be appreciated by many generations to come,” she concluded.

Let’s work together, make our yards butterfly-friendly, plant Milkweed for the Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) and bring hope to these butterflies! Click here to locate Milkweed seeds for your garden.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly nectaring on Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), a species of Milkweed which also happens to be their host plant.

Read more about the Monarch‘s situation in this National Geographic article.