An orange, black, and white monarch butterfly perches on a round bunch of unopened milkweed flowers.

We know monarch butterflies for their striking orange and black wings and impressive migratory journey from Canada to Mexico. They also play an important role as pollinators in ecosystems. But monarch populations are in trouble—they’ve decreased more than 80 percent over two decades, as their habitat of milkweed and nectar plants declines throughout North America. 

Chicago and other cities play a critical role in helping monarchs recover. Individuals, communities, researchers, and cities and government officials can all contribute to building urban conservation networks. 

Scientists at the Field’s Keller Science Action Center are working to understand the role urban places play in supporting monarch butterflies, to implement community science programs around Chicago, and to develop resources that nearly anyone can use to help monarchs and other pollinators.

18 million Milkweed stems currently in Chicago
1.8 billion New milkweed stems needed in North America to save monarchs
30 of essential new milkweed stems Can be added in cities

Everyone plays a role

Join us in taking actions big and small to help the monarch butterfly. We’re working to transform low-quality green spaces into high-quality homes for monarchs and other pollinators. This means introducing milkweed—the only plant monarch caterpillars can eat—and other native flowers that provide nectar as food for butterflies and other wildlife. Milkweed and native flowers can thrive in home gardens and in natural areas around schools, offices, parks, and roads.

If you live in a city, it may seem like you don't have the space to plant habitat for monarchs, but every milkweed stem makes a difference. Most milkweeds do well in containers on a balcony or in a shared outdoor space like a patio or front walk. Consider adding these five types of milkweed and try planting in containers. 

Don’t know where to start? Check out our Monarch Habitat Field Guide for recommendations on which native plants to include, and use this tool to plan your garden layout.

Already have milkweed? Participate in our science by sending data on the monarch eggs and caterpillars you spot on your plants. Find out more about our summer Monarch Community Science Project.

Cities throughout the monarch’s Eastern US range can make important contributions to monarch recovery. Our scientists worked with cities big and small to develop research-based recommendations for creating monarch habitats. Planners and city officials can make use of our spatial planning tools and refer to our papers detailing this research.

Find out more and get started using our guidebook and tools:

Download tools by city:

If your work involves making the case for monarch conservation on a large scale, we encourage you to make use of Field Museum research publications on the value of urban conservation and the important role of social science in that work.


A future for monarch butterflies

Preserving monarchs and their remarkable migration means we must create and protect habitats for them. This work requires an “all hands on deck” conservation strategy that depends on contributions from individual community members to state and federal landowners. Thank you for being a key part of monarch butterfly recovery.

Additional Resources