By Debbie Roland and Emmy Ulmschneider, Master Gardeners
Throughout our articles, we have stressed the importance of planting native plants in our yards. But perhaps the most important question is why? These are the “heart” reasons: reasons that we cannot touch but affect our outlook on life.
There is no time like the fall, the time of epic southward migrations, to become aware of the wonders in a native yard. One of those is the eastern migrating Monarch butterfly from Canada to the overwintering site in Mexico. This fall, right now, if you see a large orange and black butterfly pass over head, show your children. Our Monarch population east of the Rockies has declined about 90% since the 1990s. What if your children are the last generation to see this epic migration.
There are many reasons for this decline, including challenges in the areas where Monarchs breed and in the areas where Monarchs overwinter. But high on the list is the loss of habitat to cropland, farming practices and development.
Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweeds, a plant that once used to be common but no longer. The caterpillars hatch and consume the milkweeds concentrating glycosides in their bodies which render them unpalatable to predators. A great strategy as long as milkweeds are common. By some estimates we would need to plant 1.8 billion (that is billion with a B) milkweeds to bring back the Monarchs.
So, what can we do? We create habitat to support them. Adult Monarchs feed on nectar and the best nectar plants are our natives. And the native plants double duty providing nectar not only for monarchs but also for our native bees.
But, by far the greatest contribution you can make is to get involved in habitat conservation in our area. Keep Midland Beautiful established a Monarch Waystation in the Community Garden at the Midland Memorial West Campus. Recognizing the milkweed stands at Windlands Park in Midland, citizens and city officials came together to develop a mowing program to limit the impact on milkweeds and support our migrating Monarchs.
In your yard you can provide nectar plants, avoid pesticides, and plant milkweeds! You need to plant native milkweeds as some non-native milkweeds can disturb migration patterns or harbor parasites that affect adult Monarchs. Monarch conservation organizations such as Monarch Watch, Journey North, and Monarch Joint Venture have tons of resources, how to and where you can find milkweeds for your area.
If you have questions, please call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700 for more gardening information. Additional information is available at https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu and westtexasgardening.org.