For the past three years we have been allowing native milkweed to take over our front yard. When I purchased this property, I bought milkweed seeds and scattered them in the areas I wanted to designate for wildflowers, however nature had other ideas. The seeds I bought did not germinate but a nice patch of milkweed came up amongst my flowers. I couldn't bring myself to pull it, that seemed silly since I was trying to get it to grow anyways so I let it be. In the fall I collected the seeds and again planted them where I desired for them to grow but again, they grew where they wanted, in the front yard, each year staking claim to more and more real estate.
This year I was finally rewarded! The monarchs had found my now small forest of milkweed. Every few days I would scour the leaves, looking for a sign of eggs or a caterpillar, not really knowing what I was looking for and each time coming up empty handed. One night on a whim, I turned over a leaf, just to check, and there it was! A teeny tiny, barely visible in the light of the setting sun, newly hatch monarch caterpillar. I was so excited I ran back into the house, forgetting the garbage cans which was the reason for my trip outside in the first place. Armed with a flashlight I found another tiny hatchling. My mission of helping the monarch was complete, or so I thought.
That night I contacted a lady I follow on instagram who I knew had posted photos of monarchs from her home. She was also in Wisconsin so I figured she would be able to help me determine if I leave them be in the wild or raise them in my home. Thanks to her advice and the websites she directed me to I learned that planting the milkweed is only part of helping save the monarchs. In the wild they have less than a 10% chance of survival into adulthood! So, the next morning, armed with a little knowledge and a new makeshift caterpillar home, I went out to find my new friend. Over the next several weeks I collected more caterpillars and eggs, and watched them transform from a tiny 2mm spec, into a 4" long eating (and pooping) machine in mere days.
Watching them grow, shed their skins, and go into chrysalis, has been amazing to witness. And I have learned so much in this short amount of time about these beautiful creatures, that I am more in awe of and humbled by the fact that I was able to be a part of these stages of their lives. Today we released our first butterfly into our garden. I wished him luck on his journey as he flew up and quickly out of sight. If he is lucky, he will make the 3000-mile journey back to Mexico to winter and breed in the trees where his predecessors came from.
I encourage you to learn more, you won't be sorry you did. They truly are incredible animals, one whose story of growth, transformation, and journey we can use as an inspiration in our lives. To learn more, buy seed and gear, or to help the cause please visit https://monarchwatch.org/.