August 2015: Monarchs and milkweed

LEGO brick sculpture of a monarch on a milkweed by Sean Kenney

August 2015 library profile:

Monarchs and Milkweed


The Morton Arboretum has been transformed into a LEGO wonderland! One of the 13 sculptures located around the grounds is a monarch butterfly resting on a pink flowering milkweed plant. Milkweed is the host plant for these butterflies; monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed plants, and the caterpillars survive by eating the plant until they are ready to build a chrysalis. Milkweed produces a milky toxin defense mechanism which is ingested by the caterpillar while it eats and absorbed into its body, ultimately passing on the toxic defense mechanism of the plant to the adult butterfly and discouraging predators. The monarch also makes an amazing migration every year. Unable to survive in sub-freezing temperatures, the butterfly flies south to pass the winter in Mexico.


At the Arboretum

Nature Connects: Art with LEGO bricks by Sean Kenney

Class: Gardening for Hummingbirds and Butterflies



“Because of its tropical origins, the monarch is not able to withstand the winter season. Most butterflies cope with winter as a sheltered caterpillar or chrysalis; some survive as eggs, even fewer manage as winter-hardy adults. But not the monarch, a creature far more akin to the heat of summer than the deathly cold of a northern winter. Taking advantage of its tropical affinity, the monarch butterfly undertakes its famous migration every autumn from all points east of the Rockies to certain mountain slopes and defiles in Mexico to pass the winter. Here they hang by the millions from the branches and trunks of tall fir trees. So while the monarch cannot survive the northern winter in any stage of its life cycle because it does not possess the cold-hardiness of our resident native butterflies, it is still strong enough to make the massive long-distance migrations comparable to those of our songbirds. By the following spring, after mating, monarchs leave and head north, eventually laying eggs on freshly sprouting milkweeds in the southern United States.”
~from Small Creatures & Ordinary Places: Essays on Nature by Allen M. Young, p.55-56


Library resources

Small Creatures & Ordinary Places: Essays on Nature by Allen M. Young, 2008

Four Wings and a Prayer: Caught in the Mystery of the Monarch Butterfly by Sue Halpern, 2002

The Monarch Butterfly by Fred A. Urquhart, 1960

Monarch and Milkweed by Helen Frost and Leonid Gore, 2008

Monarch Butterflies: Mysterious Travellers by Bianca Lavies, 1992

Milkweed butterflies, their cladistics and biology by Phillip Ronald Ackery, 1984

Field Guide to the Butterflies of Illinois by John K. Bouseman and James G. Sternburg, 2001

Reader’s Advisory

Interested in attracting butterflies to your garden? Also check out our general butterfly collections, or make an appointment with us to see our collection of over 600 real butterflies and moths!