This past week my son and I have been on a vacation to central Iowa. It was our first ever trip to Iowa as neither of us had ever been. We landed in Des Moines, rented a car, and then drove 2 hours to our final destination. There were a few things I noticed about Iowa.
First and probably most obvious, corn is literally everywhere. Now I know that you read that and you think that I'm saying there is a lot of corn. But what I need you to understand... is that corn IS... literally everywhere. Along the roads - corn. Next to our hotel - corn. Next to the airport - corn. Between buildings - corn. All of it packed 6 inches to 1 foot apart in tidy rows so dense that I now understand how they can make a corn maze.
The other thing I noticed is that most roadsides hadn't been mowed in at least several months. This gave medians and roadsides a wild appearance. BUT... there were wildflowers all mixed in which gave it a wild beauty. Purple coneflowers, Black-Eyed Susan's, and many more appeared as if someone had thrown handfuls of intermixed seeds and let nature takes its course. Or nature had actually taken its own course and these wildflowers were the result of random planting through natural spread of seeds such as wind and wild birds. In addition to roadways, I saw wildflower gardens on neighborhood corners, outside of businesses, and even our hotel seemed to have forgone a manicured landscape to let wildflowers take over (or they cut landscaping from their budget due to losses from COVID19 who knows).
Embarrassingly, it took me a day or two to really appreciate the significance of these wildflowers along the road and businesses. I hadn't even thought about where I was. The Midwest! Monarch stomping grounds! Were all these wildflowers a coincidence or were Iowans really purposefully supporting butterflies? How many butterflies are killed when they spray all that corn? Corn is very susceptible to damage from worm like pests meaning that chemicals used would most likely not discriminate from monarch caterpillars. I didn't actually ask any Iowans I met. But I'd like to think they were all trying to support monarchs.
After digging into the internet in search of groups or federal programs that support roadside wildflowers, I found that Iowans can use land grants to build butterfly gardens. They even support a "no mow" campaign for roadsides and medians. There are lots of resources for Iowans on how to limit chemicals that may harm butterflies, how to incorporate host and nectar plants, and just how important the Midwest is for monarch.
Just how important is the Midwest specifically for Monarchs? Simply, this is where monarchs conduct a significant amount of reproduction and egg laying to generate new generations that will then make the fall migration south for the winter. Monarchs have been migrating from the northern United States down to Mexico for at least as long as we've cared to pay attention to. Almost 3,000 miles round trip. But why?
They follow the temperature and the food. During the migration north, Monarchs begin going north as temperatures rise in southern states. This rise in temperatures also means that monarch food is becoming available. Milkweed is exiting its dormancy and other wildflower nectar sources begin blooming. This progresses like a wave from southern states northward. The monarch follow this wave northward because for new milkweeds to lay eggs on and new nectar sources to support them.
Monarchs eventually reach the peak of both the optimal temperatures and food. By the time they have made it to the Midwest, the original butterflies that overwintered in Mexico have been replaced by around 4 generations! That's right. It takes around 4 generations of monarchs to make the migration north. Just in time to reproduce and then eventually turn around and do the same thing all the way back to the Sierra Madre Mountain of Mexico.
I often fail to appreciate the monarch migrations as a Florida resident. We really do not see migrating monarchs the way that the rest of America does. Still, no matter where you are these pollinators need all the support they can get. Interested in finding out more information on butterfly gardening and supporting pollinators?
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Email us with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/Monarch_Butterfly/migration/