Helping Endangered Monarchs

monarch on sage

Photons of light race away from the surface of Sol at 186,000 miles per second. Penetrating the atmosphere, infrared light rays reach terra firma, bouncing off a milkweed plant and directly into thousands of compound ommatidia inside the eyes of a passing monarch butterfly, the plant having no choice but to broadcast the results of internal biochemistry reading like a neon sign to this passing butterfly about the plant’s relative heath and readiness for feeding hungry caterpillars.

monarchsWe walk upon this scene in the backyard garden, more of those zooming photons entering our eyes, triggering chemical signals within the millions of rods and cones therein. Those chemicals translated almost instantly inside our brains to produce what we know as sight. And what a sight this is. Only on earth can this happen. Of the hundred billion stars in the milky way and the more than 2 trillion galaxies across the universe, this sight can only be seen here on the third rock from the sun. As far as we can tell, monarchs are butterfly royalty for the entirety of the known universe.

When I was a kid in the 80’s we’d sometimes see large clouds of thousands of monarch butterflies. We’d pitch back in the grass and watch them pass sweetly on the breeze.

As I write this, my twin sons are 10 days old. 10 days old and within their first week of life on this amazing planet we learned that monarch butterflies are now an endangered species, facing extinction.

Everyone I know wants to help the butterflies, and we all can. There are the tried and true methods. Go organic. No more lawn chems, no more purchasing foods raised on pesticides. Farms and landscapes must also feed the natural world. There’s no way around it if we’re going to save butterflies, bees, and the bold intricate beauty of pollination driven ecosystems.

What else can we do? Plant their favorites.

monarchWhat are the mega monarch magnets? We know about the milkweeds, common for the garden, swamp for the rain garden, poke for the shade, and butterfly weed for hot sunny spots. All of which can host monarch caterpillars. How about some nectar for butterflies migrating from Mexico to Canada and vise-versa? Joe Pye weed, prairie sage, cup flowers, and woodland sunflowers will all bring the monarchs around, but nothing and I mean nothing gets a swarm of monarchs more excited than Liatris ligustylis, meadow blazingstar. Monarch butterflies will line up around the block for a chance to sip the sweet nectar of this particular gayfeather. These are prairie plants, plant them with prairie grasses. Plants evolved in complex communities, give them some of that complexity, that diversity where strength can be fostered, where health can be nurtured.

If the question becomes, “how much of my landscape should I convert over to protect pollinators?” On behalf of my infant sons, I invite you to answer that with “as much as humanly possible”.

We can’t help but feel the existential dread of a world without love floating on the breeze. Of all the planets orbiting all the stars in all the galaxies in the universe, here we are now with the butterflies. If we all do our part, we can keep it that way for generations to come.


Russ Henry is the owner and president of Minnehaha Falls Landscaping. He and his wife Chesney are leading valuable work in environmentally sound gardening and landscaping practices on the Twin Cities.

To learn more, join a webinar or workshop...


  1. Kathleen Alme on August 27, 2022 at 6:50 am

    I have been growing milkweed seedlings for about 7 years & started 60 dozen last year. Prairie Moon Nursery donates the seeds, Walmart & Mills Fleet Farm have donated other supplies and I donate my seedlings to the Hennepin County Master Gardener plant sale and to other metro area garden clubs for their sales.

    • MSHS on August 27, 2022 at 1:54 pm

      Wow, this is amazing, Kathleen! We’re over here clapping, high-fiving and cheering you on (and thinking how we might join you in this effort next year). Thanks for inspiring us – keep up the awesome work!

Leave a Comment