UTAH (ABC4) – The International Union for Conservation now classifies the monarch butterfly as an endangered species. The western population is at greatest risk. This population includes the monarchs that migrate through Utah. That population is now down 99 percent. However, Young Living Essential Oils is working to create waystations to improve life for the monarch, and they are offering milkweed seeds to Utahns who want to create waystations at home.
“It would be an absolute shame,” Andrea Higbee-Aguin stated. She was referring to the idea that the monarch butterfly could go extinct.
Higbee-Aguin is the greenhouse team lead at Young Living’s farm in Mona, Utah. On the farm, she helps grow hundreds of flowers that are used in waystations on the property to feed monarchs that are passing through the area.
“We need to be good stewards and take care of our environment and give something back to the butterflies that they need to survive,” Higbee-Aguin said.
Butterflies need nectar to survive, but monarch caterpillars depend on milkweed for their food.
“In Utah, I believe, there are 18 different species of milkweed that are native to this area, so they need one of those species,” Tyler Wilson stated. “That’s all they eat.” Wilson is the lead scientist for Young Living. He helps figure out the best ways to extract essential oils from different plants. He is also referred to as the “brainpower” behind the company’s waystations.
“One of the things that we’re trying to learn is, you know, are there certain species that are native to this area that the butterflies recognize, that the caterpillars one over another,” he told ABC4.
The company currently has way stations on six different properties across Utah and Idaho. Wilson explained that they are beginning to do some research projects about the possibility of the monarch preferring some milkweed plants to others. If so, Young Living may begin growing more species of the plant.
“They’re beautiful pollinators,” Wilson stated. “They’re beautiful creatures and if we can help bring those population numbers back up, we should.”
They currently grow two types of native milkweed: showy milkweed and swamp milkweed. Showy milkweed does well in drier soil, while swamp milkweed does better in wetter soil.
Milkweed is considered a toxic plant. Many insects and animals stay away from it. If ingested, it can make humans sick. That is why the bright colored monarchs have adapted to eating the plant as caterpillars. “It’s their defense mechanism. That’s how their species continues by eating a plant that is toxic to most other insects,” Higbee-Aguin stated. She continued, “Birds know if they eat one of them, then they’re going to get sick from eating it, so they stay away.”
The plant’s toxicity might be the reason milkweed has long been considered a noxious weed. “We’ve been intentionally killing off the milkweed and unintentionally killing off the monarch population as well,” Higbee-Aguin explained.
Young Living will continue to implement monarch waystations at its different properties and is encouraging Utahans to create small waystations in their own yards.
“If we limit the use of pesticides and herbicides in our own yards, and there’s a good variety of nectar-bearing flowers, and also plant some milkweed, that will do a lot to help these populations increase again,” Wilson added.
While one of the monarch waystations at the Mona farm is easily 10,000 square feet, Wilson said waystations as small as 100 square feet can be highly beneficial. In fact, he said, he has one that size in his own yard.
Young Living Essential Oils is not only encouraging Utahns to implement monarch waystations in their yards but is helping them get started. They offer milkweed seed packets to the public at their Lehi and Mona locations.