Milkweed is More Than Just A Pretty Weed

Every year 100 million monarch butterflies make an extraordinary journey, some of them traveling all the way from Canada to the Transvolcanic Mountains in Mexico, where they spend the winter. However, these major pollinators in American gardens, fields and farms and a critical element in our food supply are disappearing and could soon become an endangered species. In the last 20 years. The Xerces Society, a major butterfly research organization, estimates that the population of Monarch butterflies has declined from over 1 billion in 1992 to an estimated 35 million in the winter of 2013-14. That represents a 96 percent loss of Monarchs over a 20-year period. So what’s causing this massive decline? What’s happened to all the Monarchs?

  • Monarchs must have milkweed. They have an obligate relationship with this family of plants. Monarch caterpillars exclusively eat milkweed plants as they begin the process of metamorphism and become butterflies. No milkweed = no monarchs.
  • Many localities treat milkweed as a noxious weed and destroy it, usually by spraying herbicide which kills both the milkweed and adult nectaring plants. This happens along highway edges, public parks, in agricultural settings, and in residential developments. Pesticide use also kills huge numbers of Monarch eggs, larva, and adults.
  • Habitat destruction for development of new roads, housing developments, commercial development, and agricultural expansion has negative consequences for Monarchs.

The Dunwoody Nature Center is embarking on a major initiative called The Milkweed Project to help protect the monarch butterfly by raising awareness of the troubling decline of the population, and by launching a grassroots effort to plant more milkweed throughout the community to improve local habitat and help the Monarch on its migratory journey. Program initiatives include:

  • The Nature Center has partnered with Post Properties to purchase mature plants for distribution and Post Properties has pledged to plant Milkweed Gardens at all of their properties in Atlanta, Charlotte, and Raleigh.
  • The UPS Foundation has partnered with the Nature Center for the project and has committed $11,700 towards purchasing plants and educational materials to help further raise awareness of the troubling decline of the monarch population.
  • The Nature Center is collaborating with the Dunwoody elementary schools (and beyond as funding becomes available) to educate and bring the experience into the classroom with butterfly rearing kits, grow racks, seeds, and other instructional items. In addition, the Nature Center is providing each school with milkweed and other pollinator plants, and will oversee the planting of them at the schools.
  • Thee Nature Center will become a certified Monarch Waystation. The new front entry garden is being planted with native plants, pollinators, hardscape, and of course, milkweed.
  • The City of Dunwoody has committed to support the Milkweed Project by allocating space in each of the city parks for milkweed and by working with the Nature Center on an education campaign with the city landscaping staff to eliminate the use of Roundup in these areas.
  • At the 22nd annual Butterfly Festival – August 15 – the monarch butterfly will be the focus. As the signature event of the Nature Center, this day of entertainment will be utilized to educate all ages about the wonders and fragility of the monarch butterfly species.

You can help keep milkweed – and the Monarch butterflies – alive by planting a milkweed garden in areas that lie along the migratory route.