The Monarch Garden on the Chippewa National Forest

By Melissa Rickers on Aug 8, 2011


Cutfoot visitor Mrs. Potton of Winnipeg, Canada helps her grandson Eli find and photograph a butterfly.

This summer the garden at Cut Foot Sioux VIC is filled with more than 50 Common Milkweed and about a half-dozen Swamp Milkweed plants producing dozens of caterpillars.

Five years ago when Bonny and Gary Siegford first started volunteering as hosts at Cutfoot Sioux Visitor Center in the Chippewa National Forest, there were only two milkweed plants in the center's native garden. By the end of that summer the two scrawny plants were eaten down to the stalks by only a few Monarch caterpillars. This summer nearly one-third of the Visitor Center's wildflower garden is filled with more than 50 Common Milkweed and about a half-dozen Swamp Milkweed plants producing dozens of caterpillars. Currently, there are more than two dozen Monarchs in the cocoon or chrysalis stage. Each day beautiful butterflies emerge from their cocoons; dry their wings and head out on their 5,000 mile flight to Mexico's mountains where they will winter.

As vacationing families come to the visitor center, they are treated to a tour of the gardens marveling at each stage of the Monarch's development. Children are delighted to see all the life-stages at eye level, from eggs, to caterpillars, to cocoons to emerging butterflies. Many people take photos and become determined to plant milkweeds in their own gardens. This plant usually thought of as a weed or pest plant has gained a new respect. According to Stan Teikela's field guide Wildflowers of Minnesota, "there are over 2,000 milkweed species worldwide, 13 in Minnesota."

What does it take to produce a healthy crop of Monarch Butterflies? The first thing that comes to mind is a food source and a host plant. While that is certainly true, Monarchs might have acres of fields of common milkweed (their main food source) and still not produce a single butterfly. If we spray insecticide or herbicide in fields, ditches or even our gardens, Monarchs will not survive. Like all butterflies, Monarchs are very susceptible to pesticides in any form. In the North Country we have a unique opportunity to increase the Monarch population. We hold the key to the survival of the species. You too can help ensure the survival of this magical butterfly by planting milkweed.