Bountiful Monarchs – A very good year in the prairie

By Carol / August 14, 2018 /

When we planted our prairie patch 10 years ago, one goal was to provide butterfly habitat. In the ensuing years, we’ve seen an uptick in pollinators. Bees of many varieties. A wealth of dragonflies. Yet only a few butterflies. Only the occasional monarch.

Until this year.

Monarch enjoying butterfly milkweed.

This year, butterflies are everywhere. Especially monarchs. Each time I walk out into our yard, I’m greeted by monarchs flitting in and around the prairie. It’s not a matter of if I’ll see one. Rather, it’s how many I’ll see.

A wealth of common milkweed provide welcome habitat.

I don’t know why this year has been better than others. Does a prairie need to be mature enough? Does it need to be large enough? Do we need the right balance of plants? Do they need the oppressively hot and humid weather we’ve experienced this summer?

A monarch caterpillar lunches on milkweed.

Perhaps the monarchs discovered they have another reliable stop for their long migration.

Two decades ago, Iowa joined a 16-state regional plan focused on providing 7 million acres of habitat for monarch migration.

Another butterfly enjoys butterfly milkweed. Can you identify this beauty?

A recent drive through northeast Iowa revealed that farmers are getting on board. Acre patches are devoted to native plants. Counties are seeding rural roadways to native flowers. In addition to butterfly habitat, these patches provide a colorful break from fields of corn and soybeans that reach to the horizon.

We doubled the size of our prairie two years ago. Our patch is less than half an acre, but it’s something. It will take time for the new space to mature, but we already have a multitude of useful plants – cup plants, butterfly milkweed, common milkweed, sweet blackeyed Susan. All attractive to butterflies.

The monarch butterflies make me hopeful for the future. I hope we’re lucky enough to host so many – or more – in future years.

Have you noticed an increase in butterflies this year? Have you added plants to your garden to help pollinators? Can you identify the orange butterfly in the last photo? Please leave a note.


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  1. Nan Johnson on August 14, 2018 at 4:37 pm

    Carol, I’ve noticed more butterflies here in Missouri. Not monarchs, specifically, but the two pollinator plots in our prairie are still maturing, so we may have to wait a few more years. Lots of dragonflies, however; maybe we will follow your pattern! We had Eastern Tiger Swallowtails and Pipevine Swallowtails (Blue) grace our fields this year. I think the orange butterfly in your last picture might be a Great Spangled Fritillary. Lovely photographs!

    • Carol on August 15, 2018 at 2:50 pm

      I’m glad to hear about the progress in your prairie, Nan. Perhaps it is a matter (partially) of prairie maturity. We’ve had swallowtails in the past but not this year, yet. There’s still time. Thanks for the the tip on the Great Spangled Fritillary. As I look at images, I’m confident that is what I saw. The photos are a matter of luck. I only have my phone, so the butterflies have to be willing participants!

  2. Merril Smith on August 15, 2018 at 6:33 am

    Beautiful, Carol, and how wonderful to have a prairie full of butterflies!
    I am not much of a gardener, but I did go to a butterfly festival last month where a local gardening group–that also maintains a butterfly house at the park in my town–was trying to raise awareness about butterflies.

    • Carol on August 15, 2018 at 2:45 pm

      Thanks, Merril. This year is a real treat. Butterflies and other pollinators are in crisis as a result of monoculture farming and the use of pesticides. Re-establishing prairie habitat is a step in bringing them back to a healthy level. Healthy for them. Healthy for all of us.

  3. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on August 15, 2018 at 8:33 am

    I thought there were fewer butterflies than ever in my garden this year, here in western Canada—not even in my dill.

  4. […] prairie is ‘new’ every year. Last year, for instance, the prairie produced an abundance of Butterfly milkweed. I loved these beautiful orange blossoms and the butterflies they […]

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