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.

(For your convenience, you can follow links on the various plants mentioned here to check for availability and price.)

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 speciosa) and Swamp Sunflowers (Helianthus angustifolius) are late bloomers and provide nectar for migrating Monarchs.

Monarch on Orange Mexican Sunflower

Monarch nectaring on Orange Mexican Sunflower.

Monarch on Swamp Sunflower

Monarch nectaring on Swamp Sunflower.

Many Lantanas (Lantana spp.) are still blooming. Last year 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 that attracts Monarchs and comes in many different varieties.

Goldenrod

Goldenrod provides an enticing buffet for pollinators, including fall-migrating Monarchs and other butterflies.

Ironweed (Vernonia spp.) always attracts Monarchs.

Monarch sampling Ironweed nectar.

Other great nectar flowers to plant for fall-migrating Monarchs include these:
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Autumn Joy Stonecrop (Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’)
Dense Blazingstar (Liatris spicata)
Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa)
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum)
Rose Verbena (Verbena canadensis)

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.