Grow ‘weeds’ to help Monarch butterflies

Monarch butterflies are small but they play a big role making sure plants continue to grow. Problem is their population has “collapsed” from what it was decades ago.

Alexander Garcia, a Queen West apartment dweller, is growing milkweed—the Monarch’s plant of choice on which to lay its eggs—on his balcony to help boost the Monarch population.

He hopes more high-risers will do the same.
David Suzuki’s Homegrown National Park (HNP), an environmental movement, is behind a push to encourage homeowners to grow milkweed on their properties..

Says Garcia, “Monarch butterflies are a really fundamental species in the local eco system because no matter how many foraging birds come into an area they won’t be able to eat all the pollinators because they’ll leave at least the Monarchs alone.”

here’s good reason birds leave the Monarch alone—the bug is poisonous.

That’s because the milkweed, which its larvae feed on, is poisonous. Thus the Monarch—as beautiful as it is—is deadly for birds.

In fact, says Garcia, other butterflies try to look like it so they won’t get eaten. The Viceroy butterfly is one impersonator.

“As long as there are Monarchs some things will get pollinated,” says Garcia.

“That means that next spring there’ll be a spring again. If it wasn’t for Monarchs it’s possible that a passing-through flock of birds could destroy all the pollinators and then next spring could potentially be a silent one if nothing gets pollinated.”

A “dramatic collapse” has taken place in Monarch numbers over the past several decades, says Garcia. Recently there’s been a slight improvement in their population due to chemical bans and gardeners planting milkweed. But compared to their original population “it’s a very meagre increase,” says Garcia.

While he isn’t sure what plants Monarchs pollinate—or if that includes food crops—he says they at least make sure that plants that other pollinators need to live on do get pollinated. It’s a case of one insect helping to provide plant food for many others.

At a Christie Pits event in May HNP rangers distributed 5,000 milkweed plants. “That’s a tremendous number,” says Garcia.

Garcia says Monarchs will fly long distances to find milkweed on which to lay their eggs. “What we need to do is have lots of places for them to lay their eggs. Without them there is a very serious risk … that too many insects could be foraged by the birds and because of that there wouldn’t be enough to pollinate all the plants that need it.”

For more milkweed information visit www.avidsuzuki.org/gotmilkweed.

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