A Monarch Waystation at the Library

Monarch butterfly

Monarch Butterfly (photo by Kim Sain)

Statistics show the 2013-2014 overwintering numbers of the monarch butterfly declined again and were the lowest numbers recorded since 1993.  Why is this happening?  Scientists point to the reduction of native milkweeds as a primary reason for the population decline.  Milkweeds are the only host plants used by monarchs to lay their eggs and for the caterpillars to feed on, so they need these plants to survive.

Agricultural methods eliminating native milkweeds, as well as other environmental changes affecting monarch’s habitat including land development, extreme climatic events such as prolonged periods of drought, and illegal logging in patches of forests in Mexico where monarchs spend the winter all contribute to a reduced monarch population.

The monarch’s migratory route includes Kansas, but did you know there are three generations of monarchs that will reside here during the annual migration?

To help sustain monarch migration, researchers encourage everyone to plant more nectar sources and native milkweeds, which will also benefit other pollinators important for our ecosystem.  Plants that bloom throughout the growing season provide energy before and during migration, and give monarchs the required nutrition for reproduction.

Great Spangled Fritillary with Monarch Caterpillar on Butterfly Milkweed

Great Spangled Fritillary with Monarch Caterpillar on Butterfly Milkweed (photo by Kim Sain)

Monarch Watch, a nonprofit organization based at the University of Kansas working to educate the public about monarchs and conservation, refer to garden plots planted to attract these butterflies as waystations.  The Library planted a Monarch Waystation this spring and followed Monarch Watch’s requirements for certification.   Requirements include a garden with well-drained soil in a sunny, protected spot, nectar sources, and at least 10 milkweed plants made up of two or more species, or more than 10 plants of one milkweed species.  We applied for a milkweed grant and received a flat of 32 common milkweed plants, the only milkweed species in the garden.  Monarch Watch also recommends 2 to 3 nectar plants for every milkweed plant in a waystation.

Library staff member John Cooper, who maintains the Library’s landscape, improved the soil quality in the designated garden plot and prepped it for planting.  Members of the Lawn and Garden Neighborhood researched annual and perennial nectar plants that should grow well in our area, and plotted our garden on paper before planting.  We met Monarch Watch’s 2-10 plants per square yard recommendation, with milkweeds and nectar sources planted in close proximity which should bloom May thru early fall.  We focused heavily on perennial nectar plants and will plant different annuals next spring.  This year’s annuals include Lantana and two varieties of Zinnia.  Perennials in addition to the common milkweeds include Butterfly Bush, Blue Mist Spirea,, Sedum, Joe-Pye Weed, Yarrow, Russian Sage, Goldenrod, Purple Coneflower, and Bee Balm.

Stop by our Monarch Waystation (near the flag pole) and watch for monarchs and other butterfly species, pollinators such as bumblebees, and even hummingbirds, and get inspired to plant your own Monarch Waystation!

Additional Resources

Monarch Watch
Journey North
How Do Monarchs Find Milkweed? slideshow

Monarch Butterfly Recovery Plan
Wichita Eagle article
The Last Monarch Butterfly
Butterflies of Oklahoma, Kansas and North Texas
TSCPL Monarch Waystation Photo Album

Kimberly Sain

As a Public Services Specialist, I actively promote the Travel and Pets neighborhoods, coordinate nature-themed programs for adults and families, and serve on the Big Read planning committee. Outdoor photography, birdwatching, discovering new hiking trails, and reading nature writing and travelogues about Alaska are some of my hobbies. Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country is my all-time favorite novel.

  • Kate Hughes

    Thanks for the gorgeous butterfly garden, the great pics and info! Several of the plants that you write about and have included in the waystation helped me with my own flower bed plans.

  • Kim

    Thanks, Kate! I know you’ll apply your artistic talents to your flower garden and it will be beautiful. The butterfly ID book I mention above is a very good resource for identifying those that will stop in your garden this summer. I’m curious–do you keep a garden journal?