The monarch butterfly is one of the most iconic insects in North America and been proposed as the US National Insect. Populations have declined dramatically in recent years despite intense conservation efforts. Many hypotheses for their decline have been proposed, including: habitat loss, agricultural practices, pesticides, and climate change. While the science community investigates and debates these alternative ideas there is opportunity for citizens to engage the conservation effort by small scale changes in gardening. A wide diversity of milkweed species exist in Arizona with varying degrees of suitability as hostplants. There are native and common garden plants that are suitable nectar and pollen sources. Butterfly populations can be influenced by small scale butterfly gardens. Enhancing populations of milkweed hostplants through private home garden planting can foster greater populations and add new flowering perennials to your garden.
Monarch are dependent on milkweeds for food and defense against predators by sequestering milkweed chemicals. Migration patterns stretch incredible distances through multiple generations to reach overwintering sites in Mexico and southern U.S. The monarch breeding season is complicated in Arizona because of variable elevations and associated plant communities and many climatic microsites. Monarchs migrate through Arizona both in spring and fall to destinations in Mexico, California, and small overwintering sites occur within Arizona. A butterfly tagging program (http://www.swmonarchs.org/tagging.php) is in place that will continue to reveal new information about monarch behavior.
We recognize that many organizations have a strong interest in the wild land restoration of milkweeds, however there is a limited capacity for available plants. We believe our approach to utilize volunteers is complimentary to other milkweed and monarch conservation efforts and may offer some advantages to improving monarch habitat in Arizona.