Monarch Butterflies at Risk

One of the themes of this New Zealand adventure is species at risk. It as though all of the “sky is falling” warnings of those enviro “Henny Pennys” are finally coming home to roost. As I travel I am encountering fewer birds that before, and therefore fewer penguins. I was hoping to see a Kea on my southern sojourn, but alas, friends say that their range has contracted to Arthurs Pass.

Monarch butterfly populations are crashing in North America, and it seems they are in the southern hemisphere as well. We can do more than wring our hands or just wish for a different outcome. We can plant the species of native plants we know provide food and shelter for Monarch butterflies and other pollinator insects.

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Swan plants at Paripuma in Blenheim, NZ

Whilst I was in Blenheim I learned about the swan plant, the preferred plant of the Monarch butterfly in New Zealand. Similar to the milkweed in North America, it has a milky substance in its stem and flossy flowering pods. The plant is the preferred place to leave its eggs or form a chrysalis.

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Many plants attractive to pollinators also appeal to humans.

My experience with planting milkweed seeds in my home garden has been one of frustration. They never seem to germinate. This year I was able to transplant some dormant milkweed from a native plant garden about to undergo renovation. So far they are slow growing but responding. None of mine look as magnificent as Rosa Davison’s swan plants. Also, if you want to do the Monarchs a favor–stop or greatly reduce using any chemicals including fertilizer in your garden.

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In California you can visit a special grove in Pacific Grove where the Monarch’s overwinter. Their numbers have been shrinking. Similarly in New Zealand, Butterfly Bay in Northland’s Whangaroa Harbour is an overwintering site. They have also seen a dramatic decline in butterfly numbers.

You can learn more about planting a pollinator garden for butterflies, or donating to promote butterfly habitats:

North America—Xerces Society http://www.xerces.org/monarch

New Zealand–Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust http://www.monarch.org.nz

Monarch Butterflies Find Sanctuary

IMG_2915You may know that the Monarch Butterfly migrates thousands of miles in it’s life cycle. The caterpillar needs milkweed for food, the adult needs groves of pine, eucalyptus and cypress for overwintering. Their habitats have been reduced, chemicals in our environment threaten them, and their numbers have greatly diminished across the USA.

IMG_2916For several decades one town, Pacific Grove, California, has taken special pride in their protected Butterfly Sanctuary and the thousands of Monarch butterflies that arrive from October to stay until January or February. The peak time to see them–especially in clusters of a thousand or so–is around US Thanksgiving.

IMG_2922The sanctuary is an easy walk from the main street in Pacific Grove (Lighthouse Avenue). There is parking and it is wheelchair accessible. Although there is an incline from one end to the other. There are fun activities for children and plenty of benches for all ages. And there is no charge for entrance.

IMG_2921We took a picnic lunch and sat among the trees watching the butterflies dance high in the air among the tops of the trees. Occasionally one would drop down closer to us and alight on a branch and then we could try for a photo. It would have been more dramatic if we’d been able to see the clusters, but this was also relaxing and fun. We read the well designed signs to learn more about the butterflies and gained a new appreciation for these beautiful insects.

Pacific Grove is on the Monterey Peninsula and an easy activity to plan as part of your next visit. It is walking distance from Asilomar and just off 17 Mile Drive near the entrance to Pebble Beach.