As Monarch Week is celebrated, environmental advocates are calling attention to the plight of the monarch butterfly. Monarchs are essential pollinators contributing to the cultivation of many fruits and vegetables, but their life span is short with four generations spawned in the course of a year. Those hatching in late summer and early autumn migrate up to 3,000 miles from as far north as eastern Canada to spend winter in central Mexico.

Maryland is home to a portion of eastern monarchs in spring and summer. Over the last 25 years, critical milkweed habitats have been reduced, which has led to a corresponding reduction in the eastern monarch butterfly population. This time of year, monarchs migrate north to lay their eggs on milkweed plants, on which their offspring will feed during their caterpillar stage.

One method of tracking migrating monarch population size is measuring the amount of acreage on which they overwinter in Mexico. (Adobe Stock)

Jim McCann, state zoologist for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said restoring milkweed is essential to helping the monarch population. “It’s a pretty widely adaptable native plant,” McCann pointed out. “We have, I think, 12 species of native milkweed that have been documented in Maryland. And I would say, out of those, there’s probably a half a dozen that could be planted and be used as larval habitat, here in Maryland.” He emphasized that people in suburban and rural settings can help by planting milkweed even in a small area.

Last year, monarchs were classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Monarchs have been affected not only by reductions in their milkweed habitat but also by the use of pesticides. McCann noted that scientists have recently made new findings about monarchs in the state. “Monarchs that are migrating through Maryland are actually kind of undernourished, they’re relatively low in weight,” McCann explained. “That tells us that we need to be better hosts to monarchs moving through Maryland, we need to provide better nectar sources so that when they stop over on their way south, they can refuel as needed.”

To help pollinators thrive, the Maryland State Park Service has a program called Project Butterfly and Bumblebee, which establishes native plant areas to aid the conservation of butterflies, bumblebees, beetles, wasps, and other pollinators. “It kind of serves as a nice demonstration area,” McCann observed. “For folks who are considering doing something on their own property, whether it’s just planting a few milkweed plants or a few nectar plants, or whether they want to do something on a larger scale, they can see how. Look at what locally native plants to use, time of year considerations, things to avoid like pesticide use.”

There are eight state parks with demonstration areas. Maryland residents can learn about ways to help monarch butterflies and other pollinators by visiting these demonstration areas. They can also find out more about how to help by contacting the Maryland State Park Service.

As we celebrate Monarch Week, let us remember the important role that monarch butterflies play in our ecosystem. By planting milkweed and providing better nectar sources, we can help these essential pollinators thrive.

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/EditorEditor-in-Chief

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...

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