By: Alana Pugh
Among the Canadian geese and other migratory critters heading south for the winter is a smaller traveler — the eastern monarch butterfly. Monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains will migrate to Mexico, sometimes traveling up to 3,000 miles to reach their site. At the end of their long journey awaits the oyamel fir (Abies religiosa) and pine forests in the Sierra Madre mountains (the area in which the butterflies will over-winter), and many people who await their arrival.
The monarch’s arrival coincides with the beginning of Día de los Muertos, a holiday that Mt. Cuba Center will be celebrating early at Fiesta en el Jardín on October 22. Mt. Cuba is partnering with the Hispanic American Association of Delaware (HAAD) for the second year for the event. Last year, Mt. Cuba interviewed HAAD Board Secretary, Estefanía Cuéllar, to learn more about Día de los Muertos, which you can read here. This year, guests can attend the event and celebrate Mexican culture, dance, mariachi, and learn about the significance of mariposas monarcas, or monarch butterflies. This event is included in general admission and is free for Mt. Cuba members.
Though eastern monarchs over-winter in a specific region of central Mexico, in the state of Michoacán, they are culturally significant throughout the entire country. Día de los Muertos is a widely celebrated, two-day event that honors the lives of lost loved ones. Those who participate welcome the souls of their departed loved ones into their homes once a year, constructing altars with bright flowers, foods, drinks, and more to honor and commemorate the lives of those who have passed. Monarchs play an integral role in this time of remembrance.
The November 2nd start of Día de los Muertos perfectly matches the arrival of the eastern monarchs to Michoacán–the timeliness so consistent it is often referenced as “like clockwork.” The butterflies are believed to be the souls of the departed coming back to visit still-living family members. In fact, their embodiment of souls is so rooted in Michoacán’s culture that small holes are made in coffins so that the departed’s soul may escape and float into the universe – which is why their return each year is remarkably sacred, anticipated, and meaningful. As Cuéllar said in last year’s interview, “Día de Los Muertos is a symbol of national identity for Mexicans.”
Monarchs also mean a great deal to Mt. Cuba, and we strive to provide habitat and food resources for them as they make their annual journey. Adding native plants like swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), and others that produce nectar will positively aid monarchs in critical time periods when they focus on finding food resources to fuel their journey. Monarchs tend to travel around 50-100 miles a day for two months, so their need for adequate food sources is critical.
This October 22, visit Mt. Cuba to learn about Mexican culture and this incredible species of butterflies that represents strength and durability. More information on Fiesta en el Jardín can be found here.