Add plants to your garden to attract monarch butterflies

Add plants to your garden to attract monarch butterflies

by Ellen Goff

The extraordinary life of the monarch remains as captivating as its annual migration from protected lands in Michoacan, Mexico, through the United States to Canada and back again each November. Monarchs who live West of the Rockies migrate to Santa Cruz, Calif. Though scientists understand the mechanics of metamorphosis, the monarchs' ability to navigate an annual 4,000-mile round-trip remains a mystery.

One of the leading explorers of the amazing phenomena is Dr. Orley R. "Chip" Taylor, professor of entomology at the University of Kansas and director of Monarch Watch, an educational outreach initiative to engage people in the science of monarch butterflies.

Supported through donations and sales of educational materials, including butterfly tagging kits, Monarch Watch offers children and adults the opportunity to participate in the research of monarch migration with instructions on how to tag monarchs and record vital data.

"Tagging by volunteers has helped define the migration window as well as the timing and pace of the migration," Taylor says. "It also shows that the probability of reaching Mexico is related to geographic location, size of the butterfly and the date."

To begin your own watch, add plants that will attract monarchs to your garden. By incorporating several milkweed varieties, you'll encourage egg laying and have a front-row seat for their development. Be sure to plant in a sunny spot — these plants need at least six hours of full sun.

Next, include some butterfly nectar plants such as cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus), Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum), floss flower (Ageratum houstonianum) and purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).

Your enjoyment of monarch watching and stewardship will multiply if you include children in your activities. And you'll be giving a very special gift to the next generation - memories that will transport them back to their childhood.

Ellen Goff is a freelance horticulture writer and photographer. She's passionate about plants, water quality and protecting the environment. Aside from working with words and pictures, she stays busy with her home landscape and its inhabitants along the shores of Lake Wylie, S.C.

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