The plight of the monarch

Monarch butterflies are on their way to extinction, but horticulture can help.


The monarch is the iconic American butterfly. Everyone can identify it. One of the first school lessons my son had was about the monarch. His pre-K class learned about the milkweed-monarch relationship while they watched the caterpillars grow and pupate. On the day, the monarchs were released, the children donned their homemade wings and antennae, and staged a monarch migration all around the school. The whole school watched. His brother did it a few years later. I bet many of your children learned about the monarch at an early age, too.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the monarch was a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act on Dec. 15, 2020. To those of us who pay attention to the ongoing plight of the monarchs, we welcomed the effort. The service’s decision was a result of an extensive review of the monarch, compiling and assessing the monarch’s current and future status. As a candidate under the Endangered Species Act, the monarch’s status will be reviewed annually until a listing decision is made.

In February 2021, The World Wildlife Fund–Mexico announced the results of the annual survey of monarch butterflies overwintering in central Mexico. The butterflies occupied an estimated 2.1 hectares (a little over 5 acres) of forest during the winter of 2020-2021. This was a reduction of approximately 26% compared to the previous winter, when monarchs occupied 2.83 hectares. Scientists estimate that 6 hectares are necessary to sustain the population. Also, there was a 75% decline in the winter of 2019-2020 versus 2018-2019.

There are many national efforts underway to help keep the monarch from extinction. Any of the following organizations below can provide more information than you will ever need to help. If you do a quick search right now you will be amazed at what’s going on in your community. A quick search for the Asheville area yielded quite an impressive list of resources, press and general information of how to get involved, where to obtain milkweed, when and where to witness the migration and much more.

Monarchs need milkweed. Most of us grow plants. Consequently, we certainly are in a position to give aid. Plant a patch at your nursery — it beats mowing. Grow some and give it away. The elementary school closest to you will take it, I bet. There is probably more than one species of milkweed native to your area. If you plant it, they will come. It’s fun and can help save our wonderful monarch from extinction.

The author is president of Carolina Native Nursery in Burnsville, North Carolina.

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