How do I tell if Monarchs are in my patch of Milkweed before I cut it?
I have a fairly large area of wild milkweed that I usually cut to keep the area cleared but before I cut it I was wondering if there was a way to tell if Monarch Butterflies are in this patch. I know that their numbers are lower than a few years ago.
Thanks for writing in. If Monarchs are present you will often see their caterpillars on milkweed leaves. You may also have adult Monarchs which have already completed their metamorphosis. Even if you don’t see Monarch caterpillars or adults, keep in mind that you have a very valuable resource that they need. Milkweed is also an important source of nectar for many species of native bees, honey bees, many species of butterflies and many other beneficial insects.
It sounds like you may have a stand of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), which is a very important plant for Monarchs and other insects. Common Milkweed produces nectar not only during the day, but also at night – very important for nocturnal moths, including some beautiful moth species that are very challenged, such as the Luna Moth.
The seeds of of milkweed will feed many seed-eating birds and milkweed stems will provide habitat for many overwintering insects. Always try to leave the plants standing through winter for these reasons.
My suggestion – keep as much of the area standing as you can and only cut back what you truly need to have cleared. You are supporting a complex food web and a healthy ecosystem. Check out my recent post on milkweeds for additional information.
Photo: Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Photo credit: Dendroica cerulea_Flickr
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