The Monarch Butterfly Needs Milkweed to Survive. Here's How to Get Seeds

CC BY 2.0. bark

Habitat loss for this iconic black and orange butterfly, especially along its migratory routes, is devastating monarch populations. Help a winged friend out by planting milkweed.

Just a few months ago, Michael covered the initiative from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) to help monarch butterflies by planting milkweed and other butterfly-friendly plants along the main monarch butterfly migration routes in the U.S., which is a laudable effort. But because we're all activists at heart (right?), we really ought to be taking some responsibility for issues like this and doing something about it in our own yards and neighborhoods, instead of leaving wildlife conservation and habitat restoration solely in the hands of the powers that be.

I'm all in favor of national and regional efforts, but I also happen to believe that we can all take small yet effective actions in our own sphere of influence, such as in our homes and communities, which can all add up to a bigger overall positive impact. And providing migratory wildlife habitat, especially for important flagship species like monarchs, is fairly easy and is something that almost anyone can do on a small scale, as opposed to trying to save a forest or stop a pipeline all by yourself.

Milkweed isn't exactly a household name for most people, and you probably won't find common milkweed starts at your local garden store, because as its name suggests, it's considered a weed. But a weed to us is nectar and nursery and survival for monarch butterflies, and the good news is that it's pretty easy to grow - it grows like a weed - and there are dozens of varieties of milkweed, with the plant growing across almost all of the growing regions of North America.

The easiest method of getting milkweed seeds for your monarch butterfly garden is to find it locally, either through buying or trading seed from a local source, or by gathering seeds from nearby milkweed plants. Depending on when the milkweed seed pods are mature enough to be gathered, it may be late in the season, but they can always be saved or planted for next season. According to the NWF, swamp milkweed (A. incarnata), and butterflyweed (A. tuberosa) are widely available at nurseries, so a local greenhouse or nursery may have these varieties or others for sale as live plants.

Local seed swaps or seed libraries may have milkweed seeds available, and with Earth Day coming up, these events shouldn't be too hard to find, especially if you're already tapped in to the local gardening scene or environmental initiatives. Your local Cooperative Extension Service office is another great resource for sourcing milkweed seeds and other butterfly-friendly plants, as well as for region-specific information about suitable plants for monarch habitats.

You can also find and order milkweed seeds online, and one of the best places to start might be the Xerces Society Milkweed Seed Finder page, where you can search by species or by state. For those of us living in US southwest, Southwest Monarch Study has some region-specific info and a list of southwestern nurseries that carry milkweed.

Another great resource is the Live Monarch site, where milkweed seeds can be ordered for as little as 50 seeds for a dollar, or even free with a stamped self-addressed envelope to nonprofits or schools.

Monarch Watch has a program for free milkweed plant plugs for schools and nonprofits, or for sale at the Milkweed Market, and offers Monarch waystation seed kits and instructions for growing your own butterfly gardens.

The Monarch Joint Venture has great information about creating monarch butterfly habitat, and the Save Our Monarchs Foundation will give you 100 packs of milkweed seeds in exchange for a $25 donation, and offers them for sale in bulk.

You can also make your own butterfly food from your leftovers with these recipes, and on a related note, it is possible to fix the broken wing of a monarch butterfly, so if you'd like to be a butterfly medic, check out this step-by-step guide.