Go Organic — and plant milkweed — to Save Monarchs

Go Organic — and plant milkweed — to Save Monarchs

Note: A more recent post is available that discusses the milkweed varieties (tropical vs native) in the comments section

An article on page three of today’s Los Angeles Times talked about declining monarch butterfly numbers in Mexico where it winters. But here is an important takeaway that was buried a bit in the article: the use of  genetically modified crops (GMOs)  in the midwest where the monarch breeds contains Roundup (glyphosphate) that is killing the monarch’s vial food source — the milkweed plant . Many monarchs don’t even get a chance to begin their flights southward.

For nature lovers, this is another reason to go organic. Organic foods contain no genetically modified GMO ingredients.

I won’t go into a lot of details since I’ve written previous posts on herbicide problems, including “Go Organic to Help the Bees” and also  nature’s view of GMOs  last fall about California’s proposition to label GMOs.

But here are some of the most important facts:

The Problems

  • Because more than three-fourths of genetically modified crops are engineered to tolerate applications of herbicides, the use of glyphosphate, commonly known as Roundup, has increased.roundup-weed-killer
  • Monsanto, one of the primary developers of GMO seeds, manufacturers Roundup.
  • A  U.S. Geological Survey showed significant levels of Roundup in air and water samples in Mississippi and Iowa. Human effects are unclear at this time.
  • Monarch decline and milkweed: A University of Minnesota study documented a large decline of monarch eggs and milkweed that the butterfly requires for laying its eggs. They tied the decline to the increasing use of GMO crops and increasing Roundup use.

    Monarch caterpillar on its host plant, milkweed

    Monarch caterpillar on its host plant, milkweed

 The Solutions

1) Eat organic

I can attest that it’s not always easy to pick the organic package with the higher price tag, but knowing the products are pesticide and herbicide free is well worth it.

2) Plant milkweed for the monarchs

This is especially important for people in the Midwest agricultural belt where GMO crops are so prevalent. Here at our California home, I have a half-dozen plants. See prior blog on attracting butterflies (focus on monarchs). The monarchs haven’t found them yet but I don’t mind waiting because each caterpillar eats two to three dozen leaves before entering the next chrysalis stage.

Older chrysalis - note difference from young one, such as the spots

Monarch chrysalis


Milkweed (non-native) in our garden

Many say milkweed native to your area is best, but you may have more trouble finding a nursery that stocks it. Other types of milkweed are available but if you buy a non-native one, make sure a systemic pesticide hasn’t been used.

About Linda Richards

My goal is to educate about the science of nature in layperson speak, through my writing, science and education background. I grew up in the Chicago area, loved living in Minneapolis before gravitating to the West, which is now home.


  1. Thank you.
    I feel so blessed when I spy a monarch, knowing the privilege diminishes with each passing year.

  2. Thank you for the tips. I found the hard way about the pesticides and effects on monarch caterpillars. Over the weekend I found that I had too many caterpillars for little milkweed and went out and bought some at Home Depot. By the next day there was one dead caterpillar and the others were throwing up green liquid and squirming. It was sooooo sad! I am returning the milkweeds today! And buying more organic milkweed seeds! I still feel sick to my stomach of the thought that the pesticides used in the plants from HD caused the caterpillars! Shame on anybody who does! We don’t in my yard and I see happy bees and butterflies. Anyway… please spread the word about the pesticides! Thank you!

    • Christine, I am so sorry to hear your experience. I would call their corporate office & let them know. The more complaints and examples they have the more they’re likely to change. Also let other local nurseries know that they need to check…

      • Dear Linda,
        Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge with all your followers. I hear this story often I am sorry to say. I have four places where I like to buy milkweed. Roger’s Garden, Corona del Mar. 949 721-2100. Upland Nursery, Orange. 714 538-4500. Village Nurseries, Orange. 714 998-8751. Brita’s Old Town Gardens, Seal Beach. 562 430-5019. These have worked for me in a pinch when I have run out of food. I am a monarch waystation in Fullerton Calif. number 5375. In 2012 we released over 500 monarchs. We tag for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. I like to save my seeds and start my own plants. Even doing this I sometimes run out of food and have to buy plants. One monarch caterpillar will eat between 28-38 leaves. They will also eat flowers, seed pods. and if nothing else is left they will eat all branches to the ground. They are eating machines. I have a face book page for anyone to join who loves butterflies. I try my best to give good and helpful information. Happy Butterfly Gardening!!! Thank’s for inviting a Monarch to Lunch!
        Monika Moore

        • Cheryl Barnett says:

          Thank you for the info. I love to go on an adventure to Rogers Garden and Seal Beach. Now I be on a quest for milkweed.

  3. Note, I’m posting an update about questions you can ask nurseries in light of pollinators being killed by pesticide sprayed plants.

  4. Sally Clugston says:

    Good morning.
    Where can I buy organic milkweed plants? I can find organic milkweek seeds; however I read
    if you plant seeds it takes about 3 years to get blooms.

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