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Monarchs winter home

Published: Thu, November 30, 2017 @ 12:00 a.m.

Q. Where do monarch butterflies go for the winter?

Mary Ann from Youngstown

A. It depends which side of the United States the monarchs are found. If they are located west of the Rocky Mountains, they return to the California coast, where they roost for the winter in eucalyptus trees, Monterey pines and Monterey cypresses.

If the monarchs are here, east of the Rocky Mountains, they travel to the Transvolcanic Mountains of Central Mexico, to roost in the Oyamel Fir forest.

Their overwintering sites in Mexico are 10,000 feet above sea level. They are cool, protected from snow and winds. They are steep southwest facing slopes surrounded by trees, and the monarchs get their water from fog and clouds.

All these elements make up the monarch butterfly habitat. They use the same trees year to year, and they are the only insect to migrate 2,500 miles away each year to a warmer climate.

More important, however, than where they overwinter is how we help them survive and increase their numbers while they hang out in our fields and gardens here in the Mahoning Valley.

Our role in helping the returning monarchs is ensuring they have the food they need.

You can plant some milkweed, the host plants for the monarch butterfly adults.

This includes plants such as common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), which is where the butterflies will lay their eggs and where the caterpillars will feast to grow big and fat.

Other native milkweeds will support caterpillars, but the common milkweed is the most important. Tropical milkweed (Asclepias curvassavica) is the only other option for caterpillars. It is an annual here. There are disease concerns over it, but only where it lives as a perennial.

For adult butterflies, plants such as butterfly-weed, Sullivant’s milkweed, swamp milkweed and whorled milkweed are good choices. Plant them in full sun, in clumps, to attract butterflies.

There are many other species that provide nectar for monarch butterflies. Some common plants you might think of adding to your garden include marigolds, sunflowers, lilacs, Liatris (a summer-blooming perennial), and Joe-pye weed, a tall prairie plant.

Butterfly gardens should be planted in an area protected from wind but has full sun. The sun will encourage proper growth of the plants you need and allow the butterflies to warm their bodies. A few rocks or short grasses will also encourage butterflies to hang out in your garden.

Today’s answer provided by Cynthia Foust, Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist. Winter hours for the Plant and Pest Diagnostic Clinic vary. Submit questions to the clinic at 330-533-5538 or drop off samples to the OSU Extension Office in Canfield.

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