A monarch butterfly found its way into Tom Landis’ backyard garden in east Medford. Landis planted milkweed last spring hoping to encourage the return of the butterflies. - provided by Tom Landis

Monarchs happen to flutter by

Several flighty visitors dropped in on Tom and Mary Landis' comfortable home in Medford this summer.

They didn't stay long, just hung around for a bite, then fluttered off to other engagements.

"We have had several stop by — we loved seeing them," Tom Landis said. "I even had one fly by this morning while I was sitting on the deck."

Their guests were monarch butterflies visiting the milkweed garden he established in their backyard this past spring especially for the butterflies wearing royal cloaks. Monarchs live to feast on milkweed.

Landis, 66, a forester who was the U.S. Forest Service's top nursery specialist in the West before he retired, planted the garden as part of an effort he calls "Milkweeds for Monarchs."

His goal is to help provide habitat for monarch butterflies, which were once abundant in the region.

Since the Mail Tribune ran an article about his project in June, he has heard from numerous like-minded local residents interested in helping monarchs regain their natural footing.

"This is the time of year we will start seeing the caterpillars," he said. "This is also a time when you can start collecting seeds and propagate milkweed to plant in your garden."

The monarch caterpillars are loudly decked out in black and yellow stripes, Mother Nature's way of warning predators the critter is both foul tasting and toxic.

In the West, monarchs summer as far north as British Columbia then fly south to winter along California's forested central coast, many in the Santa Cruz and Monterey area. Their counterparts along the East Coast fly south to central Mexico.

Monarch Watch, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving the species, reported that the number of monarch butterflies spending the winter in a group of Mexican mountains dropped nearly 60 percent last year.

The decrease is believed to be tied to habitat loss, including wintering sites where the insects are most vulnerable.

While establishing milkweed gardens in Jackson County won't change the trend overnight, it is a start, according to Landis.

There are some native milkweed patches in the area, particularly the narrow-leaved milkweed, he said.

"People have reported seeing monarchs out in the Applegate and Phoenix and Talent this summer," he said. "One lady in Eagle Point has lots of milkweed. There were at least five monarchs out there at one time."

Noting that the butterflies are an indicator species, Landis envisions monarch gardens containing milkweed planted along biking and hiking trails throughout the area. He is encouraged that the Oregon Hills nature park is planned for east Medford, noting it should be an attraction to monarchs in the future.

"I'd love to hear from people who have seen monarchs this summer or are seeing the caterpillars," he said. "They are brightly stripped. This a great time of year for them."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or

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