The beautiful orange and black monarch butterfly needs our help. The population is declining, but we can all get involved by planting milkweed in our gardens.
I had a lovely conversation with Loretta Heinegar, a wonderful lady who a butterfly enthusiast. She has made a tremendous contribution of her time, talents and love to the plight of monarch butterflies. Her love and interest started one day exploring the garden with grandson Jake — then 5, now 18 — when a butterfly landed on a milkweed (Asclepias) and laid an egg. The next morning, Jake ran out and found 3 eggs to his delight. However, the following morning there was only one egg, which a spider was eating.
Heinegar started to read everything she could about the monarch butterfly, learning that in the garden only about 10 percent of 100 eggs survive because of spiders and ants eating them. She started to raise butterflies inside and about 90 percent survived to her delight, and has made this her life’s work. She tended eggs and cocoons in her garden and learned about the monarch waystation project, which is organized by Monarch Watch, a project of the University of Kansas. The waystations provide bright flowers and suitable food for all of the insect’s life stages: egg, caterpillar, cocoon and finally butterfly. Monarchs drink only the nectar from the flowers, but caterpillars eat the flowers.
Now to what we can do to help the monarch survive. There are few butterflies to be seen in the wild because many farming foods have genetically modified organisms. Spraying is done in the fields to kill weeds, and that includes the much needed milkweed. Huge farm fields have no fences for the milkweed to grow along as you can see in most of our lush farm acres here in Bartholomew County. Further inhibiting the butterflies and their food supply, the environment and our gardens are sprayed with pesticides and weed killer.
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Heinegar was honored several years ago at a new garden in Mounds State Park, which was named in her honor. It is the largest official waystation in Indiana State Parks and was christened “Loretta’s Garden.” There are many varieties of Indiana wildflowers planted at this waystation, including five types of milkweed. Mounds State Park is located off Interstate 69, east of Anderson.
There are several varieties of milkweed. The common names usually refer to the plant’s milky white sap or its famous attraction for pollinators. Common names are orange milkweed, pink swamp milkweed and the white blossom milkweed — a delicate white flower that we enjoyed in our garden.