The Milkweed is Up in My Wisconsin Yard

It’s time for monarch monitoring as my common milkweed stems have emerged in my yard! I’ll have to look back to be sure, but I think it’s early. Each year, since 2006, I’ve reported the emergence of the perennial milkweed in my yard to Journey North. This means I am a citizen scientist! The submission of my data allows the real scientists studying monarch habitats to gather information they might not otherwise have access to. It is an easy way to contribute to the science behind saving this species and its magnificent migration!

Common milkweed emerges in my Wisconsin yard. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2022.

I had to think about how to contribute to monitoring this year due to our pending move. I have three types of milkweed in the yard that we are leaving, along with many nectar plants. The milkweed species I have are common milkweed, rose milkweed, and whorled milkweed. These plants provide a plentiful base for monarch reproduction. Adult female monarch butterflies lay their eggs only on milkweed plants. The reason for that is that milkweed is the only plant the monarch caterpillars eat. After emerging from the egg that was laid on the milkweed, the tiny caterpillar begins eating the plant (milkweed) that sustains its entire life cycle. It is amazing to watch! Since I’ve been watching and supporting the monarch’s life cycle for twenty years, I’ve been able to capture some nice videos of the amazing aspects of their life.

Newly hatched monarch caterpillar and eggshell. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018.

This year, I won’t be able to observe monarchs past mid-June. But, we do have milkweed at our lake house. There are a few stems in a perennial garden I started there years ago. There’s also a lot of common milkweed along the roadside. I can observe, collect, and submit information from there.

In addition, last year was my first year with the IMMP or Integrated Monarch Monitoring Program through Monarch Joint Venture. I surveyed Rush Creek State Natural Area in Crawford County, Wisconsin. The site was about an hour away from my home and due to our move, it would be four hours away from our cabin, making continued surveys there untenable for me.

However, in watching the training review videos that were just sent out last week, I found that I could pick one of the program’s randomized sites that they have all over the country. Using their software, I found a site that is near our cabin – actually closer than Rush Creek was to my primary residence last year. I am going to adopt that site for this year’s monitoring. It is a right of way, so I plan to survey that and turn in data from there. In addition, we have the 15-acre plot of land that we purchased in 2019 and planted with native seeds last year. The site already had a remnant prairie at the top (where we plan to build), so there is already an existing monarch habitat consisting of common milkweed, coneflower, and black-eyed Susans. I plan to measure out an area there and monitor it as well. My husband has agreed to help me in these endeavors.

The one thing I will not do this summer is to raise any monarchs. Usually, I do this. It has been a long-standing activity for me and one that I used for twenty years to teach the monarch life cycle. But, recent research has shown that the popularity of raising monarchs has led to an increase in diseases that increase the mortality of this species. I do not want to contribute to the further demise of the monarch. I also do not have any teaching sessions planned. Therefore, I will just observe, monitor, and submit data from these two sites.

Yes, the milkweed has emerged and I am ready for the monarch’s arrival. I will celebrate this by reading my own monarch and milkweed poetry tomorrow in a local event called Poetry of Our Times in Mc Gregor, Iowa. Nature inspires me. It also gives me great joy. That will not change.

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