Sep 28, 2022 Nature & Outdoor Have you ever seen a monarch butterfly caterpillar? Once you see it, you’ll never forget it. With its bold stripes of black, white, and yellow, it’s an exciting find for humans but very unappealing to predators. Now (during the fall season) is your chance to see them by visiting the butterfly garden at Crystal Bridges, located on the South Lawn. It’s teeming with these beauties who are feasting on a variety of milkweed growing in the garden. A monarch caterpillar. Monarchs are endangered Very soon we will witness the amazing autumn migration of the monarch butterfly as they move south to Mexico. In our delight at seeing their graceful yet determined flight, let’s not forget that monarch butterflies are struggling to survive in our changing world. In Arkansas they are listed as a species of concern, and worldwide, they have made it on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered. As of 2020, the monarch remained a candidate for listing on the US Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species list. As theories emerge suggesting that many of the causes for this may be related to human activity, this causes thoughtful gardeners to sit and ask themselves, “Am I doing everything right in my butterfly garden?” There is a lot of material online that can guide us in understanding butterflies’ needs, including how to choose the most beneficial plants and avoid plants or landscape practices that cause harm. Monarch Joint Venture offers great resources. Monarch Watch also provides a helpful plant guide for monarch butterflies. The Monarch Waystation at Crystal Bridges is located on the South Lawn (across the path from Robert Indiana's LOVE sculpture). What type of milkweed is best? In any butterfly garden, a variety of plants is best. Literature may tell us that one host plant is favored over another, but in our own butterfly garden at Crystal Bridges, we have witnessed evidence that says otherwise. Let’s talk about milkweed. One article after another will tell the reader that butterfly milkweed (Aslpecias tuberosa) is less favored in the garden compared to common milkweed (Aslepias syriaca) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata.) If you journey out to our butterfly garden, you will see for yourself that our little guests have chosen the butterfly milkweed as their favorite food during this fall migration. Swamp milkweed is coming in second and the common milkweed is being ignored. That being said, we still highly value the common milkweed because it emerges early in the spring and offers monarchs traveling North a place to lay eggs when our butterfly milkweed and swamp milkweed is still dormant. Just like us, monarch’s tastes may change throughout the season. We are attracted to diverse and fine ingredients in our food, so why should it be different with the monarchs? In our butterfly garden, we’re going with the high-end salad bar approach in which we set out a spread that gives them options. From spring until frost, we aim to provide multiple milkweed and other nectar sources to feed both larval and adult stages of our endangered friends. Come visit the butterfly garden to quietly witness these caterpillars working hard to grow up and become one of nature’s most beloved creatures! Written by Joanna Mentzer, manager, horticulture development, Crystal Bridges.