Within a year, four generations of the tiny monarch will take part in a journey that spans from your backyard to the mountains of central Mexico and back. Scientists and conservationists don’t know everything about this cycle yet, but we don’t need to examine every scientific detail to be amazed.
While monarch butterflies do not need luggage, worry about gas prices or schedule vacation time, their needs are not altogether different from ours.
The Rigors of Travel
They need to find food along the way. For adult monarchs this means flowers. Beautiful lush gardens, wildflowers along open roads, "weeds" along rail lines - any of these will supply the nectar-producing flowers that feed adult butterflies.
Female monarch butterflies also need to lay eggs along their journey. For this they need to find milkweed plants, the only food their caterpillars eat. Milkweed is commonly found along roadsides, around the edges of farms and in meadows and wildflower areas. Although many varieties of milkweed have attractive flowers, it is only occasionally planted as a garden plant.
Monarch Watch Program & Waystations
Cleveland Metroparks has joined a nationwide effort, started by Monarch Watch of University of Kansas, to increase the number of places that can act as stepping stones of habitat along the journey of monarchs.
Monarch Watch, a leading monarch butterfly conservation agency, recognized that if people planted even small gardens with nectar producing flowers for adults to feed and milkweed for monarch caterpillars, we could reverse the effects of habitat loss due to human pressures of changing agriculture and landscapes. For example, if a section of roadside that appeared "weedy" but contained wildflowers and milkweed plants was sprayed by a community to be "weed-free," nearby residents might balance that lost habitat by having a garden in their yard that contained plants needed by monarchs. These gardens are called Monarch Waystations.
Where to See Monarchs in Cleveland Metroparks
Many places in Cleveland Metroparks are excellent habitat for monarchs. We have a prairie in Brecksville Reservation, managed meadows throughout the park system, lovely gardens near nature centers and places that are allowed to be wild that naturally are filled with wildflowers and milkweed.
This conservation effort has inspired us to officially register about a dozen areas as Waystations. We are reminded to plant native flowers that feed all kinds of butterflies and milkweed plants that will soon show wear from hungry caterpillars. We are careful not to use harmful pesticides in these areas and happily share them with hungry insects of all kinds.
On your next journey into Cleveland Metroparks I hope you notice an area that might be a rest stop for a monarch butterfly. Take a moment to be amazed at how this small insect is part of such a long and complex journey, yet it takes time to flutter amongst our lives. If you are interested in planting a Monarch Waystation of your own, please visit www.monarchwatch.org/waystations or one of Cleveland Metroparks Nature Centers for more information.
—Carly Martin, Naturalist, Look About Lodge, South Chagrin Reservation