For some people, autumn is all about football, pumpkin spice, and the Texas State Fair. For me, autumn means getting outside again after hiding under the air conditioner all summer and observing the monarch butterflies as they pass through our area on their fall migration.
Photo of monarch on a butterfly bush
In the spring, the first generation of monarchs emerge from hibernation and begin the journey north to the mid-west and Canada. In August, the fourth (sometimes fifth) generation of monarchs begins a migration of up to 3,000 miles to the oyamel fir forests in Mexico. The butterflies delay breeding until the following spring and put all of their energy into the journey south.
The USDA website has a nice map of the migration route at this link:
In North Texas, we usually start seeing the first monarchs mid to late September, with the peak migration coming through the first half of October. Several migration routes converge in Texas, and that creates exciting opportunities to watch this annual miracle.
Unfortunately, our hot dry summer presents a challenge to the monarchs because the butterflies need nectar to fuel their flight, and the flowers that survive a drought do not produce much nectar. According to Chip Taylor of monarchwatch.org, “unless there are several inches of rain between now and early October, nectar will be scarce as monarchs pass through southern OK and TX and perhaps northeastern Mexico.”
We can be heroes for these amazing butterflies this year by raising nectar rich flowers this September and October. Even a few containers of flowers on the patio may be the oasis that helps a monarch make it to Mexico, and the wonder of watching the monarchs visit the flowers makes the effort so worthwhile!
Photo of monarch on cosmos
What to plant?
While any flower that has accessible nectar and does not have pesticide can help the monarchs, they really love Gregg's blue mist flower.
Photo of monarch on Gregg's blue mistflower
Monarchs also enjoy coneflower, lantana, Mexican sage, salvia, cosmos, dianthus, pentas, and zinnias.
Photos from left to right: zinnia, coneflower, lantana
Many of these nectar rich flowers grow at the butterfly garden at Bird's Fort Trail, so stop by this fall when it's a bit cooler outside. You might get to see some migrating monarchs!
Photo of the butterfly garden at Bird's Fort Trail Park