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Monarchs and Milkweed – You can help!

Young monarch caterpillar feeding on a milkweed. Photo: Erin Harlow, UF/IFAS

Monarch butterflies have been on earth for more than 10 million years.  Sadly, the monarch butterfly numbers have substantially dropped over the last two decades.

The monarch is the only butterfly species in the world to undertake a long-distance round-trip migration.  Each fall, monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains travel to specific sites on the California coast.  Monarchs from the eastern U.S. and southern Canada undertake a much longer journey, up to 3,000 miles, to wintering grounds in the mountains of central Mexico.

Illegal logging in that country has decimated the forests where these butterflies usually congregate.  But, that’s only part of the story.  Besides the habitat loss, monarchs are disappearing due to natural disease and predation, adverse weather and the decline of nectar and larval host plants.  

Six things you can do to help.

1. Plant native milkweed. Without it the species cannot survive.
monarch caterpillar and egg

Monarch caterpillar eating it’s egg. Photo: Erin Harlow, UF/IFAS

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a perennial native with orange or yellow flowers that appear in late summer and early fall.  It attracts queen and monarch butterflies for nectar and larval food.  You may have to search for native milkweeds from nurseries that specialize in native plants or butterfly gardens.  Focusing on planting native communities that incorporate native milkweed will aid in developing appealing habitats.  Native milkweeds can be mistaken for tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) which is usually sold in garden centers.  When shopping for milkweed, look for the native species and ask for plants that have not been treated with insecticides.  If you do have tropical milkweed, don’t despair, monarch larvae will still feed on it.  It is important to cut back your tropical milkweed plants in the fall so that Monarchs do not stay year-round in the area.  Cutting back these plants also reduces the spread of a protozan that causes butterflies to have distorted wings.

If you are interested in learning more about the many species of Asclepias that is native to Florida, visit the Monarch Initiative’s website.  They even have native milkweed you can purchase specific to your area.


2. Use Integrated Pest Management Practices (IPM)

Integrated pest management, or IPM, is a comprehensive approach to managing plant pests. IPM uses many different methods to

cause the least harm to people, property, and the environment.

Broad-spectrum pesticides can kill many types of insect larvae, including butterfly larvae.  Use harsher, broad spectrum chemicals last and first try to use natural products such as insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.  Always follow directions on the label.  Milkweed is the only plant that monarch butterflies lay eggs on, and its leaves are the sole food eaten by this butterfly’s larvae, so killing it destroys monarchs forever.

 3. Create a Monarch Way-Station

Adult monarch butterfly. UF/IFAS Photo: Thomas Wright.

Let a part of your yard get overgrown, and fill it with milkweed plants. Set out a butterfly-safe watering dish where they can stop to drink, and you’ll ensure that they have a safe place to stop, rest, and regroup during their migration.  Use sponges or pebbles as a filler to keep container mosquitoes from breeding there.

4. Do Your Part to Combat Climate Change

Recycle, drive less, reduce the waste you create, ensure that your home is as energy-efficient as possible, buy local. Every little bit of effort helps to reduce our footprint or impact on the climate.


5. Educate Yourself

Learn as much as you can about local dangers to monarch habitats, and determine what kind of action would be best for you to take. If you don’t have land of your own, you could look into the possibility of volunteering at a community garden space.

 6. You Can Help! Spread the Word

Tell others about the monarch’s plight, and encourage them to take these steps.  Share educational materials with friends, family members and co-workers, start a Facebook page, or volunteer to start a local butterfly garden.  The more people who know how to help these winged wonders, the better!

Let’s work together to help save the monarch.

Written by Greg Lussier, Columbia County Master Gardener Volunteer



8 Comments on “Monarchs and Milkweed – You can help!

  1. Do you have more information on creating a way station & education on protecting monarchs from dangers?

    I need to buy native milkweed Asclepias tuberosa. I have used Asclepias curassavica, which is only available at my local nurseries. Reading your information about the Asclepias curassavica, I have had monarchs emerge with bad wings but I thought it was caused by OE or just a genetic deformitiy. I had no idea this milkweed can cause the damaged wings. I need help!!!!! I’m so confused with what is or isn’t OE. In the last 6 months I have released close to 60 monarchs. I have probably had 10 that had damaged wings or perhaps OE. I know you can tell from some chrysalis if the monarch will have OE but some of the chrysalis are more of a lime green than the jade look. Some chrysalis look fine but the monarch comes out deformed and have a greenish discharge.

    Is there 1 website that has pointed information on what I need to know? I love raising the caterpillars and having a part in building the population. I just do not have alot of time to go to so many websites to find my answers. (I have a child with special needs so my time is limited) also, my milkweed will get white chalky substance on the branches, do I get rid of that milkweed? I have heard of plant hoppers which cause the leaves to wilt, it said to throw those plants away?

    Any help is so appreciated!!!!!!❤️

    • Heather, thanks for your great questions. We think your questions are so important so we are taking some time to gather all of the answers and will get back with you!

    • Heather, Check out the Monarch Butterfly Conservation website. They have several free webinars at, some good FAQs, and butterfly information. They also do a nice job explaining OE and how to tell the symptoms. Make sure you are cutting all of your milkweed back in the fall to make sure that you are reducing the risk of OE spores on your milkweed. I also use this website for information on the various milkweed that are native in Florida and also where you can purchase them. I’m not sure what the chalky substance on the leaves are. With all the recent problems you have had with wing deformities, it sounds like you need to cut the plants back and refresh all of them.

  2. I have non-native milk weed plants in my yard. Every summer there are black and orange/red bugs that eat all the leaves. These flying bugs don’t seem to bother other plants. What should I do about them. Thank you.

  3. Where can I buy Native (central Fl) Milkweed? My local nurseries don’t seem to carry it

    • Check out Green Isle Gardens. It is a wholesale/retail nursery in central FL.

    • You can order many species of milkweed plants (seeds, seedlings, cuttings, etc.) on etsy. Just type in the species name in the search bar. Many FL nurseries grow and ship them. 🙂