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Natural Resources

Posted on: April 9, 2018

Monarch Butterflies are on Their Way - Will Your Yard be Ready for Them When They Arrive in May?

Monarch on Aster

The monarch butterfly - regal, colorful, state butterfly of Minnesota has been having some troubles lately.  Population declines over the last 20 years have been attributed to habitat loss in both southern overwintering grounds and northern breeding grounds, including here in Minnesota.  Most people know that milkweed is the specific host plant of the monarch caterpillar (monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed), and we’ve done a good job at planting more milkweed in our gardens, but it’s important to not forget about adult monarch butterflies.  Monarchs need good nectar sources throughout the growing season; of critical importance can be late summer and fall when migration south begins.  These native plants are attractive additions to your yard that Monarchs like to visit:

May – Monarchs first start arriving in the state in late May.  Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) and Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) are important to the life cycles of Karner Blue Butterflies and Black Swallowtails respectively.  Cream Wild Indigo (Baptisia bracteata) is a legume that can help condition your soil.

June – Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnate) start blooming in June and are better behaved in the garden than Common Milkweed that likes to spread by rhizomes (underground roots/runners).  According to the USDA, 13 species of native milkweed grow in Minnesota.  So, no matter the conditions in your yard, there is a milkweed for you. 

July – Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) gets its start a little later than some of its cousins.  Familiar native plants that many of us already have in our yard are also butterfly favorites: Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), and Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa).

August – Blazingstars (Liatris sp.) are a must have for the Monarch enthusiast.  Similar to milkweed, there are several species of native Blazingstars that grow in Minnesota.  Monarchs have been known to cover native varieties.  Not all Blazingstars are created equally though.  Cultivars (cultivated varieties) of Blazingstars generally don’t provide as much quality nectar and are visited less frequently.  It’s important to know that you are getting a native plant if you want make use of the multiple benefits they provide.  Plants with descriptive phrases in quotation marks are cultivars and provide less benefits than native varieties (e.g. Liatris spictata ‘Kobold’).  Two popular native species are Dotted Blazingstar (Liatris punctata var. punctata) and Prairie Blazingstar (Liatris pycnostachya var. pycnostachya).

September  & October – The fall can be a key time for Monarchs as they fuel up to begin their southern migration.  Asters, such as Smooth Blue Aster (Symphyotrichum leave) and Sky Blue Aster (Symphyotrichum oolentangiense) and Aromatic Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium), provide a late season pop of color and nectar for pollinators.

If you are looking to start your Monarch native plant garden this summer, consider attending one of these events:
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources also maintains a list of native plant suppliers.  Happy planting!

Pictures below (except Purple Coneflower) are courtesy of Dakota SWCD

SWCD Golden Alexanders SWCD Butterfly Milkweed SWCD Swamp Milkweed Purple Coneflower SWCD Black-eyed Susan SWCD Prairie Blazingstar SWCD Sky Blue Aster
More Information on Native Plant Benefits...