Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy Monarch Recovery Project

The Western Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus), which once migrated across California in the millions, is on the verge of extinction. Western Monarch populations in California counted in 2019 were less than 1% of historic populations, and a dizzying 86% drop from the year prior.

Why? A dramatic loss of habitat and the impacts of climate change have combined to push them to the brink.

The most critical action we can take right now to save these beloved butterflies is to plant and restore native butterfly habitat – and more specifically, native milkweed. That’s why Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy, in partnership with other conservation organizations, has launched the Monarch Recovery Project, building and restoring habitat for Western Monarch Butterflies across the San Gabriel foothill communities.

And you can help!

Join us to save Monarch Butterfly populations – right in your own backyard!

All of our Fall 2021 Milkweed Give Away events are full – a huge thank you to the hundreds of citizen conservationists who have joined this project! We’ll have more adoption opportunities coming in 2022, so you can sign up to be notified about future events – or you can sign up to participate in our project with your own native California milkweed plants! Want to get started at home? Check out our Planting Native Milkweed video guide:

In addition to providing free milkweed to adopters like you, we’ve also developed a scientific tracking process that will help scientists see where that milkweed has been planted, how much has survived, and how that impacts Monarch populations. We’ll be working with biologists to track and monitor Monarchs in our region, and as we plant new supportive habitat in backyards and on AFC preserves, we hope to see those population numbers increase.

If you’ve attended one of our adoption events – or if you’re planting your own native milkweed! – these guides are a terrific starting point. Click the buttons to download our PDF guides, which include milkweed watering schedules, planting recommendations, and lists of native nectar plants that form good components of supportive habitat for Monarchs.

Milkweed Planting Guide
Native Nectar Plants Guide

Learn More About Milkweed and Monarchs

How Do Monarchs Migrate?

The monarch migration is one of the most magnificent and intriguing of all natural phenomena. Monarchs migrate to Mexico each fall from the central and eastern United States and southern Canada to overwinter in forested areas in mountains west of Mexico City. Monarchs from west of the Rocky Mountains undergo a similar, but shorter annual migration to several sites along the Pacific coast of California. North American monarch populations and their amazing migrations are threatened by degrading forests in the overwintering sites in Mexico and California, widespread loss of breeding habitat in the United States and Canada due to development and changing land management practices, climate change, and other factors. Want to see more? Check out this amazing animated Monarch migration map!

To learn more about the unique migration patterns of Western monarchs, click here.

Where’s my milkweed? Did it die?!

Don’t panic! Milkweed goes dormant during the winter months. You might not see your milkweed from November to March. But they should reappear when the winter season is over. Just continue to provide them with some water – if there is no rain – and they should come back in the spring. For more tips about creating a successful pollinator garden, here’s a Monarch garden guide from the Monarch Joint Venture.

Why not tropical milkweed?

Tropical milkweed does not die back in the fall – having it in your garden can disrupt Monarch migration patterns and cause disease. Tropical milkweed is beautiful, with distinctive orange flowers, but it is disruptive to Monarch migration patterns.

California native milkweed dies back in late fall, which is beneficial for interrupting the lifecycle of a serious Monarch parasite, O.E. (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha). This parasite infects, deforms and/or kills monarch butterflies.  To learn more about tropical milkweed and the latest research on this issue, check out the resources below:

Is milkweed toxic?

Yes, milkweed can be toxic to small children and pets if ingested. It can also cause skin and eye irritation. Keep all plants out of the reach of children and pets.  Click here for more information.

What is the biggest danger to Monarchs? Pesticides!

The monarch butterfly is threatened by the widespread use of the herbicide glyphosate, commonly known as RoundUp. How does a plant-killing herbicide affect a butterfly?

RoundUp decimates milkweed, the only plant on which monarchs lay their eggs and on which monarch caterpillars feed. One group of insecticides raising concern is neonicotinoids, used on farms and around homes, schools, and city landscapes. Neonicotinoids include imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam, acetamiprid, and dinotefuran. Look for these and avoid them in any garden products that you purchase.  Click here to learn more about pesticides and how they impact Monarch populations.

What about Monarch nectar plants?

Monarchs eat only milkweed as caterpillars, but drink nectar from flowers as adult butterflies. Adult butterflies depend on diverse nectar sources for food throughout the growing season, and especially during the spring and fall migration. Nectar is also food for other beneficial pollinators!

Enhancing supportive habitat in your backyard for Monarch butterflies means pairing native milkweed plants with native nectar plants that support adult butterflies. Wondering what to plant? For more information about native plants that provide nectar for Monarchs and other pollinators, check out this native pollinator plant guide from Theodore Payne.

More questions?  Contact Barbara at [email protected].

Monarch Recovery Project Partners

Visual Guide to Milkweed and Native Nectar Plants

The most common native milkweed in our area, Narrow Leaf Milkweed (Asclepius fascicularis)

Another native variety, Kotolo Milkweed (Asclepias eriocarpa), found growing naturally in Millard Canyon

The native nectar plant California Goldenrod (Solidago californica)

The native nectar plant Lilac Verbena, “De La Mina” cultivar (Verbena lilacina de la mina)