Monarch butterflies are spotted in Arizona between October and April. While monarchs are not in Arizona year round, the state is in the migration path for both the western and eastern populations of monarch butterflies. Annually, these iconic insects set out on a great journey to either California or Mexico. During their northward migration, monarch butterflies stop along the way to mate and lay eggs. Milkweeds are the only plants that monarch butterflies will lay their eggs on.
Over the last 20 years, the number of monarch butterflies has drastically decreased. One of the main factors contributing to this is the loss of native milkweed populations.
“Milkweed is lost due to agriculture, development and the increased use of herbicides. Milkweed can be considered by many to be a weed, so it is pulled out of backyards and fields,” says Dr. Kim Pegram, Insect Ecologist and Exhibits Specialist.
Desert Botanical Garden has taken part in monarch conservation since 2004 by partnering with monarch conservation organizations, providing educational opportunities, starting a research program and registering as a Monarch Waystation. All of these elements are important, but the number one way to preserve the monarch population is to grow milkweed and nectar plants. It is difficult to find native milkweed at local nurseries in Arizona, so the Garden initiated Great Milkweed Grow Out in January of this year. The goal was to grow milkweed on a large scale, collect more than a million seeds and encourage the public to plant milkweed in their own gardens to help increase the monarch population.
With the help of staff and volunteers, a partnership with the Brooks Community School Greenhouse in the Roosevelt School District, and funding from Monarch Joint Venture and the Bureau of Land Management, Great Milkweed Grow Out has:
- Planted more than 25,000 seeds
- Grown 4,500 seedlings
- Recently planted more than 8,000 new seedlings
- Collected more than 40,000 seeds from the Garden this past spring
“Desert Botanical Garden’s focus is to bring milkweed back into the urban areas with backyard gardens. We have a goal to create what we call ‘habitat stepping stones’ across the wide expanse that is greater Phoenix by encouraging our members, visitors, and the general public to plant milkweed and other necessary plants,” explains Dr. Pegram.
By planting native milkweed and nectar plants, anyone can help revive the monarch population. The Garden’s Spring Plant Sale, March 18 and 19, and visitors can purchase these plants individually or in a Butterfly Garden in a Box™ kit which includes native milkweed, nectar plants and seeds.
In March of 2017, the Garden will open a new butterfly exhibit. In addition to beautiful butterflies, the exhibit will feature a caterpillar nursery and a chrysalis emergence chamber. The exhibit will give visitors the opportunity to learn about the butterfly life cycle, pollination and why aiding in the preservation of butterflies is important.
“The Garden continues to expand our monarch conservation efforts because monarchs are important pollinators, the decline in monarchs may be an indication of broader declines in other butterflies and pollinators, and because monarchs are one insect that any backyard gardener can help,” says Dr. Pegram.