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Don’t Trash That Poinsettia! Plant That Poinsettia to Feed Monarch Butterflies!

January 7, 2016


Want to help monarch butterflies?

Many people know to plant milkweed to feed monarch caterpillars (be sure to plant the one local to YOUR area–to find the  Milkweed species best suited for your garden, go to the USDA Plants Database entry for Asclepias, and click on “State Search” on the left hand side, then look at the range map for each species available in your state).

But did you know that instead of trashing that poinsettia that decorated your house with its festive red and green foliage and golden centers, you can plant that poinsettia in the ground and provide nectar for full grown hungry monarch butterflies?


Even if the holiday feeding frenzy for you is over, it doesn’t have to be for monarchs! On sunny warm winter mornings like today, the monarchs will leave their shelter to find the nectar they need– and delight you on the way with their bright colors contrasted with blue skies and red flowers.

I would know — I live near Ocean Avenue Park in Ventura CA where they show up mid-September. They’ve been inspiring me since 1997 when I moved here and wrote this poem and this one. In 2010, by Thanksgiving, 6000 were counted. Many fall and winter mornings as the sun warms the eucalyptus trees, the butterflies emerge in a cloud of thousands to flood the barranca with their flickering flight.

Locate where you can find wintering monarchs in California on this map and maybe I will be see YOU wandering around with binoculars looking for the monarchs of Prince Barranca!

And don’t trash that poinsettia! Sometime between now and March, depending on whether you get frost or not, take it out of its plastic container, cut it back (yes, that means cut off the pretty flowers), and stick it in the ground. Be prepared for it to sprout over the summer –they can get to be 8′ tall.

I should know about growing these too– my great grandmother Anna Paquette worked for Theodosia Burr Shepherd who is credited with taking a scrubby plant native to the deserts of Mexico and cultivating it into a commercial and popular success in California.  One hundred years ago, brides carried poinsettias in their wedding bouquets!

Ventura was known as the “Poinsettia City” and the plant adorned city stationary and more for many years.

Today, Poinsettias are the most popular potted plant in the US — even though they are all purchased during six weeks of the year — and then usually trashed!

In the right climate, where it cools in in the winter to the 50s at night, stays dark for a period of time from 5p-7a, and some days in the 70s, they grow and bloom easily. More than once, I’ve stuck the dead looking canes (that I cut back at the end of the season) into the ground to use to for beans etc and they bloomed!

So if you don’t have room in YOUR garden for your poinsettias, stick a stalk in the ground somewhere — maybe  in a vacant lot– and do some guerilla gardening on behalf of the monarchs!









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