The monarch butterfly is one of North America's most recognizable and charismatic butterflies, known for its vibrant orange and black wings and unique long-distance, multi-generational migration cycle. Each winter, monarchs make their way to the Pacific coast in California and Baja, Mexico, where thousands of visitors travel to see the stunning monarch clusters.
Unfortunately, the western monarch population has drastically declined in the last two decades. Many factors include loss of overwintering and breeding habitat, loss of nectar sources, increased pesticide use, natural enemies, and disease. Furthermore, climate change poses an increasing threat that needs immediate attention.
The western monarch needs your help to protect their migratory path and overwintering sites. Here are six ways you can help protect these critical pollinators while they are overwintering in California:
1. Experience Butterflies at Monarch Groves in California state parks
Experience the wonder and joy of butterflies at a monarch grove in a California state park! With California State Parks as the largest single overwintering site landowner in California, state parks like Natural Bridges State Beach, Pismo State Beach, and Lighthouse Field State Beach are home to key monarch overwintering sites and migration routes. In 2020, Natural Bridges State Beach alone held the largest number of overwintering western monarchs, comprising 28% of the total population.
Take a trip to these popular overwintering sites and experience the joy of monarchs on your own or with friends and family! Help protect monarchs by visiting, learning, and supporting these critical monarch groves. Remember to respect the wildlife by staying on the path, giving ample space, and packing in all your litter before you leave.
2. Plant Native California Milkweed Away from the Coast
Milkweed supports a range of pollinators and is the required host plant for monarch caterpillars. However, milkweed loss in monarch breeding areas has contributed to the decline of the population — making the restoration of native milkweed crucial to their protection.
If you live at least five miles away from the coast, planting native milkweed where it is historically found can help support breeding habitats and future generations of monarchs. Here are three commercially available native milkweeds to help boost monarch habitats:
Narrow-leaved milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis)
Region: Most of Northern, Central, and Southern California Flowering time: May-October
Narrow-leaved milkweed is the most widespread species in California. With huge white and pink flower clusters and big, narrow leaves, this ornamental species is easy to grow and thrives in a wide range of growing conditions.
Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)
Region: Mostly in Northern California, forests, mountains, and arid valleys. Flowering time: May-September
Showy milkweed boasts white to pink to pinkish-purple flowers and offers abundant, high-quality nectar to pollinators.
California milkweed (Asclepias californica)
Region: Most widespread in Southern California Flowering time: April-July
California milkweed has thick stems and leaves covered with dense hair, contrasted with bright shades of lavender, pink, or white flowers.
Do not plant tropical milkweed. This is a non-native plant that is highly available in nurseries and can harbor OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha), a parasite that disrupts the lifecycle of the western monarchs and increases the mortality rate.
Support monarch populations by planting native flowering plants. Planting a diverse array of nectar and flowering species provides western monarchs with the nectar resources to make it through the winter and gives them a boost to prepare for migration.
Pacific Aster (Symphyotrichum chilense)
Region: Along the California coast and inland Coastal ranges Flowering time: Summer-Fall
This native perennial is a late-season nectar source for many pollinators. Growing in many habitats, especially along the coast and coastal mountain ranges, they display flower colors from violet to pink to white.
California goldenrod (Solidago velutina ssp. californica)
Region: Northern, Southern, and Central California Flowering time: Summer-Fall
California goldenrod is a native perennial herb that tends to grow in open grassy places and produces masses of yellow flowers when many other plants are dormant.
Coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis)
Region: Along the Central coast and inland to Coastal ranges Flowering time: Year-round
This common shrub is extremely easy to grow, drought resistant, and potentially fire resistant, producing yellow to white flowers all year-round!
Protect monarchs by avoiding the use of harmful pesticides. Pesticides – such as neonicotinoids – have received attention in recent years for their role in the decline of pollinator populations, including monarchs. Plants absorb the pesticides and can pass the toxic chemicals onto monarch caterpillars that feed on the leaves of treated plants.
Show your support for monarchs with this vintage-like one-of-a-kind hat! Help protect these essential pollinators for future generations to come.
Plus, 100% of the profits from these products fund our mission to protect and preserve the western monarchs and California state park system, for the benefit of all.
6. Donate to Protect Monarchs
This #GivingTuesday, help monarch butterflies in state parks and DOUBLE your gift! Thanks to our friends at United Airlines, your contribution will go twice as far to help protect plants and wildlife in California state parks. Ensure monarch butterflies are protected for years to come. Make your donation today!
Raise awareness and encourage your friends and family to help protect the western monarch. Use our social media toolkit to share your love and support for the beloved butterfly.
We hope you will join us and use #CalparksMonarchs to protect the western monarch this #GivingTuesday for generations to come!