Butterflies & Bees Need Our Help (part 1)

By Linda Wiggen Kraft

Butterflies (especially Monarchs), bees (honey) and bees (native), along with other insects are dying for our help. Their dying isn’t just a figure of speech, it is a documented fact that insects urgently need our help.

The challenge of gardeners now, is to grow plants that bring butterflies, birds, bees, insects and life into the garden AND to keep these plants and creatures alive once there. In other words, gardeners have to create habitats to make up for the quickly diminishing habitats of the countryside and to provide toxin free plants unlike even some of the wild ones growing near the agricultural fields of America.

The urgency of needing to plant Monarch butterfly gardens and gardens for pollinators is real. This article gives info about how to help Monarchs. Next month, how to help honey and native bees.

The number of Monarch butterflies has diminished by ninety percent. Monarch butterflies only lay eggs on asclepias (milkweed) plants. Monarch caterpillars only eat leaves of asclepias plants. If there are no asclepias plants, or if the plants are full of toxic pesticides, monarchs won’t survive. Monarchs are the only butterflies that migrate. They need asclepias plants along their route to Mexico to overwinter. Farmers are planting more crops and leaving less wild plants, including asclepias. And the most common pesticides used in over 90% of corn crops, neonicotinoids, have been shown to end up on wild asclepias plants. When an asclepias leaf, full of toxic pesticides, is ingested by small monarch caterpillars, the caterpillar’s growth is stunted making them less likely to survive.

What can home gardeners do? Plant asclepias plants, lots of them and make sure they are pesticide free. There are native asclepias plants that should be in every home garden. The most common ones are tuberosa, a bright orange flowering sun lover; incarnata, a moist soil loving tall plant with pink flowers; and syriaca, a fragrant one seen often growing along country roads. An annual tropical asclepias, curassavica, is a monarch magnet. It is about two to three feet tall, red and gold flowers, easily grown and blooms all summer long.

The most used pesticides for agricultural, home gardens and lawns, are neonicotinoids. They are systemic meaning they go into all cells and parts of the plant: root, stem, leaf, flower and pollen. They stay in the plant for its life. Last year the big box chain stores sold plants labeled as “good for pollinators”, but they were grown with neonicotinoids, which damage or kill pollinators, including butterflies and bees. A public outcry changed the stores policies. They now require labels on their plants stating if they have been grown with these pesticides and have a warning “may be harmful to pollinators”. Home gardeners can ask when buying plants what pesticides were used to grow the plants. Don’t inadvertently buy plants to help the insects that instead harm them. Avoid neonicotinoid pesticides in all of the landscape, including gardens and lawn. The common names are: imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam, acetamiprid. A list of company names and products is available on the Xerces.com website. Just put “neonicotinoid list” in the search.

Help save the butterflies, bees and other insects. Let them find a safe home, a habitat, in your gardens this year. Encourage others to do the same. You will be rewarded with flying flowers, the butterflies, and the sounds of life from bees and other pollinators that will love and live in your garden.

Linda Wiggen Kraft is a landscape designer who creates holistic and organic gardens. She is also a mandala artist and workshop leader. Visit her blog: www.CreativityForTheSoul.com/blog or website: www.CreativityForTheSoul.com. Contact her at 314 504-4266.