Ottawa (The Camping Canuck) – Those who are inspired by the majestic beauty of the monarch butterfly will be hard pressed to see many this year. A 2014 report from researches at the University of Guelph suggested that the monarch butterfly population across all of North America may decline by as much as 90%. This is a dramatic decline.
While there are various contributing factors to their decline, the salient reason is the decline of milkweed crops. The flowery herbaceous perennial known for its milky juice is a mainstay for the monarch butterfly. Milkweed serves a number of medicinal purposes, but crops of the plant have been declining leaving the butterfly with diminished breeding grounds.
Professor Ryan Norris, a member of the research team, says the report is the first of its kind to prove that there is a direct link between milkweed plants and the monarch butterfly. The problem is most acute in America’s heartland of the Midwest.
“We’re losing milkweed throughout eastern North America, but what we found out is milkweed loss specifically in the midwestern U.S. is likely contributing the most to monarch declines,” he said upon the study’s publication Wednesday in the Journal of Animal Ecology.
Corn growers are using pesticides to wipe out the milkweed to clear space for corn, but it is the detriment of the monarch butterfly population.
The report claims that over the 18 year period from 1995 to 2013, industrial farming led to a 21% reduction in the milkweed plant population in areas known to be the monarch butterflies primary breeding grounds.
The problem is that monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed plants. The eggs then hatch and give rise to monarch caterpillars which likewise only feed on the milkweed plant. This year alone, the population has declined by 90%. This was evident in Mexico where the population has decreased from 350 million to an estimated 33.5 million or nearly 96% decline. Mexico is now making conservation efforts to protect the breeding grounds of the butterfly. It will likely take conservation efforts in the United States as well.
The David Suzuki Foundation launched its #gotmilkweed campaign in April 2013 to encourage Toronto residents to plant milkweed in yards and on balconies. Foundation volunteer Homegrown Park Rangers also planted milkweed in local parks and schoolyards. The Ontario government pulled the plant off its naughty list and media stories about the monarchs’ plight took flight.
By winter 2015, the #gotmilkweed campaign had inspired more than 10,000 milkweed plantings in Toronto, with another 11,000 people across the country pledging to help monarchs via the Monarch Manifesto.
This week, the 2016 #gotmilkweed campaign launched, offering milkweed plants in Toronto and Montreal and seed packets for the rest of the country. As author and urban gardening guru Lorraine Johnson noted, these and other campaigns have made milkweed the hottest native plant on the market.