The reign of monarch butterflies – the most commonly recognized of all the butterfly species with their iconic amber and black-patterned wings – could be coming to an end. News reports have issued warnings about their dangerously low population due to a combination of pesticides that poison them and herbicides that kill their primary food source – milkweed.
But all is not lost – yet.
We butterfly-lovers can do our part to help increase the monarch’s population by planting milkweed in our own gardens. It’s a perfect summer activity that not only helps these gorgeous insects, but boosts quality time with our kids and teaches these five important life lessons …
Lesson 1: Planning ahead
With any garden, it’s important to plan where the garden will be located, noting if it is sun or shade and figuring out what kind of soil you have. But with a butterfly garden, you will need to go a step further. There are many different kinds of butterflies in Michigan and many require different types of host plants to lay their eggs, as each type of caterpillar will only eat from specific plants. We already know the monarch’s host plant is milkweed. All butterflies also require nectar plants. Zinnia is an example of a nectar plant, which is also one of the easiest plants to grow for children. Butterfly weed is great because it works as a nectar and host plant. It attracts all kinds of species of butterflies with its bright orange color and rich nectar and is also in the milkweed family, so monarchs can lay their eggs. If you would like to learn about other kinds of butterflies’ host plants, thebutterflysite.com has a list of all the Michigan butterflies with links to all the information you need about them (including their host plants).
Lesson 2: Compassion
Planting a butterfly garden with milkweed is a great way to teach our kids about compassion for creatures that need our help. They can learn about monarchs’ migration and not using pesticides. By being compassionate for this dying breed of butterflies, they can also learn the satisfaction of making a difference in the world, along with the joy of being a part of a community of people trying to change the monarch’s fate, which leads us to …
Lesson 3: Teamwork
Planting a butterfly garden helps demonstrate teamwork as you work together with your child to create something beautiful. But the teamwork lessons are compounded by the fact that you are also joining a team of other people who are trying to do the same thing. The more people who plant butterfly gardens, the more butterflies will come to visit everyone. You could start or join a neighborhood group like Ferndale Monarch Project, to keep up with what is happening with others working towards the same goal, as well as share your successes and get your questions answered.
Lesson 4: Taking responsibility
After the garden is planted, it needs to be tended. It may need water or weeding, or you and your child may need to protect the caterpillar eggs that butterflies lay in your garden. For a fun side project, you can make a caterpillar rearing box out of an old shoebox and witness the life cycle of the butterfly first hand. Check out Butterfly Fun Facts for tips on raising butterflies and directions for making the rearing box. You can also visit Brenda’s Butterfly Habitat to get butterfly eggs and caterpillars that you can raise for your garden.
Lesson 5: Patience
Plants take time to grow. Flowers take time to bloom. Caterpillars take time to become butterflies. Nothing can be rushed, so patience is essential, but well rewarded when you see those first blooms and butterflies!
There are countless other benefits to planting a butterfly garden with your child (the beauty alone is well worth it). Getting to spend quality time with our kids while fostering these life lessons AND help our monarch population come back from such devastating loss is a win-win. Get to planting that milkweed and let us know how it goes!