By: Rhonda Allen
Many gardeners are interested in helping monarch butterflies improve
their dwindling numbers by creating habitat with milkweed plants, which their larvae
need to survive. However, research done recently by conservation groups shows that well meaning
gardeners who purchase milkweed plants at nurseries may actually be harming the
butterflies. Samples taken at numerous nurseries all across America, showed an alarming pattern.
All samples from every state, even plants labelled as pollinator friendly, had pesticide
chemicals in them. Nursery growers continue to use pesticides in their processing of plants, mainly
to prevent pests from damaging plants. These pesticides do harm butterflies and other
pollinators, because the toxic chemicals are transferred to the insects when they eat any part of the
plant, like pollen, nectar, and leaves. It is important for gardeners to talk to the nursery and find out where they are getting pollinator plants. A few growers use organic practices, but many do not. Most local nurseries do not grow these plants at their sites, but order them from growers. Ask your nursery to order pesticide free plants from organic growers.
We, the consumers, can send powerful messages to change practices. Another
interesting note provided by the Xerces Society is, “Currently there is no legal or nursery
industry standard definition or set of practices mandated for the use of the terms such as ‘pollinator friendly or bee friendly’.” It is worth remembering that we the consumers are the ones to blame for these
pesticide practices, since we tend to only want to buy plants that are blemish free and
the most attractive to our eye. What’s most important, however, is that the plant is attractive to pollinators.
So, if you want to provide pollinator plants, such as milkweed for insects in your garden, the safest way may be to sow their seeds. A local provider of native seeds is the Great Valley Seed Company in Los Banos. (Don’t forget, never plant tropical milkweed! It harms butterflies due to the OE parasite it carries.)
The two best types of native milkweed for the Central Valley are narrow leaf and showy