Kathy Morrell


The Monarch Butterfly and Milkweed

        More than 180 million monarch butterflies migrate each year from their wintering grounds in the mountains of Mexico to points in the northern United States and Canada.  Along the way, they seek out milkweed, the sole source of food for their larvae.

The problem is that the plant is becoming less and less common.  The increased use of herbicides reduces habitat for milkweed.  Urban growth decreases the pasture land where the plant thrives.  Constant mowing of ditches prevents seeding of the plant.

In other words, milkweed is in trouble and along with it the monarch butterfly.  According to Monarch Watch, a conservationist group, the monarch butterfly needs our help.  Monarch Watch advocates that people along the butterfly’s migration route plant milkweed in unused plots of land, home gardens, schools, parks, and along roadways.  In Saskatchewan, the prairie milkweed and the showy milkweed are climate hardy.

The plant is surprisingly toxic.  When the monarch larvae ingest the leaves and stems, they store the poisonous elements in their wings and exoskeletons, making both the adult and larva toxic to many predators.

Milkweed seldom presents problems for livestock.

“Cattle soon learn to avoid milkweed,” stated Christy Winquist of Saskatchewan Agriculture and Good.  “Generally, cattle are smarter than we give them credit for.”

(As published in June 2006 Issue III Newsletter "What's flying around...")

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