Monday, February 10, 2020

Three easy ways to help monarchs in the cold of winter

Jackie here. As Fairyland's horticulturist, I get asked several times a week how folks can help the monarch butterfly population. So, I've come up with this list of three easy ways we can assist in their survival in the middle of winter.

1. Plant winter-blooming nectar plants

Monarchs drink nectar, so the biggest thing we can do across the board to help our pollinators is to plant winter food sources for them! They can get into major trouble if there is no food to sustain their metabolisms. Here are some pretty examples of flowers blooming in January and February at Fairyland that we have actually SEEN monarchs drinking from. Salvias and winter blooming asters are also great additions to your winter nectar garden. And, hey, bumblebees, hummingbirds, and other insects and birds also appreciate the blooming buffet.

Monarch nectaring on a Manzanita tree

Monarch sunning on Ribes malvaceum flowers

Peumus boldus covered in teeny-tiny little fragrant and nectar-rich flowers 

Some Camellias, a favorite with bees more than butterflies!

Ribes malvaceum

Abutilon species

2. Join the 2020 Western Monarch Mystery Challenge!

It runs from February 14 to April 22 (Yes, that's Valentine's Day to Earth Day):

Help the researchers at Washington State University (et. al) figure out where the monarchs go when they leave the California overwintering sites along the coast and start migrating inland. How do we do this? By doing something fun — taking pictures of them! Upload your photos to the free iNaturalist app and see where other folks are also noticing them. If we can collectively figure out where the monarchs want to lay their first set of eggs for the year, we can make sure there is enough milkweed in those communities next year.

Here's how to play, from the University's website:

-- If you see a monarch outside of overwintering groves, take a picture! (don’t worry, it can be far away and blurry)

-- Report it to iNaturalist (the app is free) and include date, species, and location OR email it to

-- Be automatically entered to win a variety of prizes every week you report a sighting.

3. Plant native milkweed seeds!
If we start sowing California native milkweed now (Aesclepias speciosa and A. fascicularis), it will germinate and be ready for the monarchs later this spring and summer when they should be breeding. Be wary if you find commercial, nursery grown tropical milkweeds (Aesclepias curassavica and A. physocarpa). There is no guarantee that they haven't b the monarchs and force them to "egg dump" where they release way too many eggs on single plants that can't sustain all the resulting caterpillars.

We recommend using the Peaceful Valley Save the Monarch Kit to get started.
Seedling grown Aesclepias fascicularis 

Thanks for your help in this important mission to save the monarchs! -- Jackie

Monday, February 3, 2020

Thanksgiving monarch population counts and 2019 numbers

For decades, researchers and citizen scientists have been tagging monarch butterflies and recording where they are spotted afterwards. This is how it was discovered that the monarchs make their spectacular migration; tags were placed on their wings in the Midwest, and butterflies with the same identification tags were found in Mexico! Eastern Monarch enthusiasts have been tagging and counting passing populations with Monarch Watch for decades. On the West Coast, we have a few different programs that tag butterflies and record their movements. The Xerces Society, and a large number of volunteers, go out and count the numbers of overwintering butterflies that show up along our California coasts every fall and winter. What has been gained out of these tagging and tracking efforts? Knowledge about where the butterflies go, and how many are on the move.
Note the tag
Unfortunately, in the last two years there has been a dramatic decrease of monarch butterflies showing up to overwinter along the California coast. I’ll let the graph below speak for itself. Check back next week to learn ways that you can help to trend the graph in the opposite direction. I know not all of us want to go back to the mid-90’s (just sayin’), but I’m sure we all wish the monarch butterfly population were at 1997 levels.

Thanks for your support!

-- Jackie

Monday, January 27, 2020

Miraculous migration and population information

Most people have heard about the spectacular generational migration of Monarchs to and from Mexico and the upper Midwest/Canada. But did you know a separate group of successive generations of “Western Monarchs” also go from our California coasts to Washington/Canada and back? The Rocky Mountains have always been a natural divide, but recent studies show that the populations are likely mixing in the Southwest when they migrate.

Monarch migration map from

No matter which population, Eastern or Western, the first, second and third generations fly north up to spring and summer breeding grounds. It's only the fourth and fifth generations who fly back to the overwintering sites; where they have never been!?! The insects that migrate south to overwintering sites are great- or great-great-grandchildren of the first generation that set out on the journey! How do they do it? Researchers still aren’t fully sure. Here at Fairyland we still believe in magic, so we think that may have a little something to do with the actual science — wink, wink! -- Jackie
Overwintering monarch butterfly drinking nectar from Manzanita flowers in January