A Place For Monarchs
students planting milkweed

MCDS students are doing their part to help save the Monarch butterfly. 

Each year, Western monarch butterflies migrate from the northwestern United States to overwinter along the California coast from Mendocino to Baja. The butterflies are at risk, having lost over 95% of their population since the 1980s. The population decline is most likely due to a combination of factors including climate change, pesticide use, and habitat loss.

Last spring, MCDS science teacher Sharon Barnett worked with landscaper Jeff Thompson to find a good location on campus where fourth graders could plant nine native Narrowleaf Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) plants. 

monarch butterfly caterpillar on a milkweed plant

Milkweed is the sole host plant for monarch butterflies; they cannot survive without it. Their caterpillars only eat milkweed plants and the monarchs need milkweed to lay their eggs. Importantly, the plants were grown without being treated with neonicotinoids, a group of insecticides that are absorbed and transported throughout a plant's leaves, flowers, roots, and stems. Neonicotinoids are toxic to butterflies, bees, and other insects.

In May, the students planted the milkweed in a sunny, open area on the Upper School campus near the creek. By October, a monarch was seen visiting the new habitat!

“I was thrilled to find a monarch visiting a few of the plants. But even more excited when I found a caterpillar larva. I was happily surprised. I just didn't think they would pay attention to such young plants,” said Sharon.

Over time, students, during visits with their science classes, will plant more milkweed as well as nectar plants in order to grow and enhance the monarch habitat.

Hopefully, the MCDS habitat will be a welcome waystation for western monarchs, providing much-needed food (milkweed and nectar sources) and shelter as they migrate along the California coastline. 

monarch butterfly

Create Your Own Monarch Waystation!

Support the monarch butterfly population by planting (pesticide-free) milkweed and nectar-rich flowers in your own backyard.  

  1. Plant pesticide-free Narrowleaf Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) in full sun. 

  2. Plant several (or more) milkweed plants together rather than spacing them out amongst other plants. Monarch larvae have voracious appetites and need to climb from one plant to the next with ease. 

  3. Add a few nectar plants nearby as food for adult monarchs. Adult monarchs need diverse nectar-rich sources throughout the year so, if possible, choose plants that have overlapping blooming periods. Learn more about which plants help monarchs here.

Helpful Resource: Download a copy of Marin's Monarch Movement Report to understand how you can best steward the land for our popular pollinators. This guide is chock full of information including nurseries that sell pesticide-free milkweed and nectar plants.

Monarch butterfly migration map monarchwatch.org

(map image: MonarchWatch.org)