Even though it’s still winter, now is the time to think about monarchs!
Monarchs in the western US are especially at risk of extinction, but our monarchs east of the Rockies could use some help too. The single best thing you can do to help the monarch population is to plant native milkweed! Just a small patch in your yard, or even in pots on your patio, can make a huge difference.
Like many of our North American butterflies, monarchs are specialist feeders. Their caterpillars are only able to eat milkweed. The butterflies can nectar on many different flowers, but their babies need milkweed. The good news is that there are quite a few varieties of milkweed native to northern Illinois and there’s sure to be one that will work in your yard.
Now is a wonderful time to get milkweed seeds started because they (like many of our native plants) do require cold stratification in order to germinate. They like to experience a bit of Midwestern winter before they’ll wake up in the spring!
Native varieties for northern Illinois include common milkweed (asclepias syriaca), swamp milkweed (asclepias incarnata), whorled milkweed (asclepias verticallata), prairie milkweed (asclepias sullivantii), butterfly milkweed (asclepias tuberosa), and purple milkweed (asclepias purpurascens). To find milkweed seeds near you, the Xerces Society has a milkweed seed finder that can be found at https://www.xerces.org/milkweed/milkweed-seed-finder
And to read about why it’s important to add milkweed to your yard this summer, please see the article here: https://www.nbcnews.com/science/environment/monarch-butterfly-population-moves-closer-extinction-rcna231