Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Pollinators in Peril: Plant for the Monarch Butterfly

A monarch butterfly alights on the narrow milkweed flower - asclepsias finiculus.
A monarch butterfly alights on the narrow milkweed flower – asclepsias finiculus.

In the last fifteen years our once-ubiquitous Monarch butterfly population has declined dramatically.  The  Xercex Society reports that as recently as the 1990s, estimates of up to one billion monarchs made the epic flight each fall from the northern plains of the U.S. and Canada to sites north of Mexico City, and more than one million monarchs overwintered in forested groves on the California Coast. Now, researchers and citizen scientists estimate that only about 56.5 million monarchs remain, representing a decline of more than 80%.

Monarch caterpillars feed on only one plant: milkweed (Asclepias). And milkweed, which was once commonly found on farmland, along roadsides and in pastures, is also the only host plant for their reproduction. Now, due to urban sprawl, commercial farming, spraying of herbicides, and mowing, entire habitats of milkweed have disappeared.

The widespread use of Glyphosate, a weed killer, has resulted in the emergence of herbicide-tolerant superweeds. Vast monoculture crops like corn and soybeans are being bred for herbicide tolerance as well. Farmers now spray five times more weed killer on their crops than they did ten years ago. As a result, farmlands suffered a 58 percent decline in milkweed and an 81 percent decline in Monarchs between 1999 and 2012.

“Saving Monarchs is about more than Monarchs,” says Chip Taylor, the executive director of  Monarch Watch, based at the University of Kansas. “It’s saving all the species with whom they share the same habitats, especially the pollinators whose service provides the food for other species.”

Two minute film of caterpillar morphing to pupa courtesy of Smitty West and Euterpe Farms, Ojai CA.

What can we do as city inhabitants to help the pollinators? Believe it or not, getting home gardeners to join the efforts to plant pollinator-friendly habitat and to stop using chemical insecticides could make a difference: if enough gardens and yards offer favorable conditions, it will make a difference. It is believed that if even 70 semi-contiguous yards in suburban or urban America plant for pollinators, whole colonies of bees and butterflies can be supported.

Photo courtesy of Smitty West, Ojai CA.
Photo courtesy of Smitty West, Ojai CA.

This April, the Hancock Park Garden Club will be offering the local narrow-leaf milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis, to residents in the area, to try to the encourage growth of the monarch population in Southern California. Plants will be sold for a minimal cost on Larchmont Blvd on the weekends of April 18-19, and April 25-26.  It is essential that the proper milkweed be planted, and it is not found at area nurseries. More details to follow.

What you can do:

1. Don’t use pesticides in your garden, particularly those based on neonicitonoids. For spraying annoying pests, use a natural insecticide made from ingredients found in your home and garden center including dish soap, water, and a touch of neem oil, rosemary and lavender oils.

2. Plant for pollinators. There is an excellent source list of pollinator-friendly plants for Southern California found found on the  Xerces Society website.

3.Consider planting Asclepias fascicularis, the milkweed native to our area of California that will be sold on Larchmont Blvd the weekends of April 18-19, and April 25-26. Email us if you want to be put on a mailing list to receive more information.

4. Become involved. Ask your neighbors to avoid the use of neonicotinoids on plants and trees that are bee-visited (like the pear trees in bloom) or bee-pollinated (such as roses and linden trees).

Jennifer-FainThis article by Windsor Square resident Jennifer Fain has been edited from its first printing in the Garden Club of America “Bulletin.” This is the second in a series the Larchmont Buzz is publishing on spring planting, pollinators, and drought tolerant garden design.

READ MORE: Larchmont Buzz: Pollinators in Peril – Bees

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