Fall Energy Drinks for Monarchs

Monarchs need more than just milkweed to survive.  They need habitat which includes food, clean water, nesting and shelter areas for both adult butterflies and caterpillars.  One source of food for adult Monarch butterflies is nectar from flowering plants blooming spring through fall. Nectar provides adult Monarchs with the energy and nutrients to fly, mate, lay eggs, migrate, overwinter and all the other things butterflies do.  Monarch butterflies can travel up to 3000 miles during the fall eastern migration, and northern Illinois is on their migration route.During the fall migration, the sugars obtained from nectar are used as fuel for flying, and stored as fat for overwintering in Mexico, mating, then flying back the following spring to the southern U.S. After their eggs are laid, the next generation continues northward. Amazing!

Below is a list of a few native plants to include in your garden to provide nectar during the Monarch fall migration. Please note some of these plants spread, so use sparingly if you have a smaller garden.  In fact, many native plants spread because nature has already figured out that covering the landscape with native plants provides more habitat, reduces weed growth, protects the soil, improves their chance of survival, increases carbon sequestration, cleans our waterway along with many other ecosystem services. Someday us humans will figure this out too.  

New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) – is a beautiful, bright purple flowering plant with an orange-yellow center, reaching 4-6’ tall. It can take clay soils, sun-part sun, almost dry to moist soils.  You can control the height of the plant by cutting back the plant by one third in late May and mid July, although this will cause the plant to branch out and become bushier.  During rainy seasons, this plant will naturally grow taller as well as many other native plants in clay soils, since clay retains moisture longer than other soil types.
Smooth Blue Aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) – is a shorter beautiful, light lavender-blue flowering plant, reaching 3-5’ tall.  It has smooth, gray green leaves, hence its name. It can take clay soils also, sun-part sun, and prefers slightly drier soils than the New England Aster above, although it can take some moisture. 
Stiff Goldenrod (Oligoneuron rigidum)– is a beautiful, golden yellow flowering plant 3-5’ tall. It has gray green leaves, can take clay soil, full-part sun, and dry to moist soils.  A common myth is goldenrods cause hay fever, but this is not true since their pollen is spread by insects. Ragweeds which bloom at the same time as goldenrods, are wind-pollinated and cause hay fever, as well as other wind pollinated plants.


According to Illinois Wildflowers’  Monarch (Danaus plexippus) visitor plant database,  Frost Aster , Drummonds Aster and Big Leaved Aster also provide nectar for Monarchs in fall

Besides planting more native milkweed for Monarch caterpillars, please give some of the above native plants a try and allow them to spread a little, as nature does, to provide much needed fall energy drinks for Monarchs on their long journey south!  

By Denise Sandoval Conservation@Home assistant dsandoval@theconservationfoundation.org  








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