Anne Marie Lardeau's 5-year quest is paying off with the first ever recorded spring sighting of Western monarch butterflies laying eggs in the Nevada city.
Las Vegas, Nevada – better known for it Elvis impersonators than its flora and fauna, perhaps. But if master gardener Anne Marie Lardeau has any say, migrating monarch butterflies will begin to know the city for its burgeoning milkweed population.
Lardeau, a Master Gardener volunteer with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension began her study of milkweed and butterflies five years ago when Cooperative faculty and staff discovered a rush milkweed plant that had been planted as a native example in a test garden at the learning center. Back then, researchers did not believe there were monarchs in the area. But Lardeau and others on the staff recognized the importance of the plant in terms of attracting the butterflies; they began working with milkweed seeds and looking into growing more rush milkweed and other varieties.
Flash-forward to now, and the Cooperative supports a number of butterfly habitats of milkweed and nectar plants in their botanical garden, including 480 milkweed plants, representing 30 varieties, including six native to Clark County, five international varieties and 19 Southwestern native varieties.
And evidently it has not all been for naught. This spring, for the first time ever recorded, Western monarch butterflies were observed laying eggs at the gardens. The eggs hatched – and 12 new butterflies were tagged and released.
“There has never been a documented instance of reproduction in Las Vegas as part of the spring migration,” says Lardeau. “We get them in the fall, but have never observed nor received reports of caterpillars in the spring before. Usually they ignore us, either just stopping to eat or simply flying over.”
The butterflies undertake their arduous journeys north from Mexico and California in the spring and back home in the fall, laying eggs on milkweed plants along the way, but never before in Las Vegas. Which makes sense, given the landscaping of the city and the prior scarcity of milkweed. Now that there is milkweed, there are more butterflies.
“We have the best collection of milkweed,” Lardeau says. “And now, we’re seeing a lot more monarch butterflies after thinking there weren’t any.”
Funny how that works – grow it and they will come.
Lardeau's next steps are to figure out which plants they like the best and which ones will grow well in private gardens in the city. Lardeau's hopes to see milkweed and nectar plants reach far beyond the five butterfly habitats at the test gardens, and into butterfly gardens in backyards and schools across Las Vegas.
“This is a joint community effort to increase availability of milkweed in the Las Vegas area,” she says. “We want to provide the public with advice on tried and effective ways to create butterfly gardens.”
To that end, Lardeau has invited residents to participate in the research project by giving them free seeds from the Coop's plants and giving instructions on planting and caring for the milkweed, surveys to track plant success, and classes on how to build butterfly-friendly gardens.
“Native milkweed seeds are either rare or expensive,” she says. “In addition, native milkweed is rare in the wild, and seeds cannot be collected on public land without a permit or on private land without owner permission. So, we’re really excited to make the seeds available for free.”
Who knows, with Lardeau's vision and the help of others, maybe Las Vegas will become a magnate for monarchs, not just those impersonating The King. Call it the butterfly effect.
If you live in Las Vegas or plan to visit, the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension's Botanical and Test Gardens are at 8050 Paradise Road. The gardens, including the butterfly gardens, are open to the public and best of all: Free packets of milkweed seeds are available to visitors.