Monarch Butterflies are on the verge of extinction. In the last twenty years scientists estimate that the world population of these iconic insects has plummeted 80%. The reasons for their decline are varied, but almost all have to do with human encroachment on their habitats. Herbicide use, deforestation, and climate change are all having negative effects on the Monarch and we are running out of time to stop their disappearance. Tops on the list of causes for their decline is the absence of milkweed and other pollinators on farms and in developed spaces. Monarch butterflies need milkweed as a place to lay their eggs and, when it is removed, butterflies lose their ability to reproduce effectively. Monarch caterpillars survive exclusively on milkweed, but the plant has seen dramatic decreases in the past 20 years as herbicide spraying has increased in the US and Mexico. With the advent of genetically modified crops that have been engineered to tolerate herbicides, usage of these toxic chemicals has increased substantially. These chemicals destroy milkweed as well as cripple Monarch caterpillars and adult butterfly populations.
Monarchs are gorgeous, but they are more than simple eye candy. Monarch butterflies help support critical ecosystems by feeding on nectar and pollinating wildflowers propagating them making them abundant. The flowers Monarchs are attracted to are colorful and have flat surfaces where butterflies can rest and relax during their long migratory journeys. Monarch butterflies also serve as critical nourishment for small animals, for birds, and for other insects. Their existence touches our world in many ways contributing to systems of life that we often do not see.
In 2013 former First Lady Rosalynn Carter became aware of the dramatic decline in Monarch populations. She was concerned and wanted to do something to help. She contacted her good friend and neighbor Annette Wise and they discussed making changes in her garden that would focus on adding pollinator plants such as milkweed into her garden mix. This single garden led to the creation of the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail. They founded the Carter Butterfly Trail to show that everyday people can help Monarch butterflies thrive once again. Their aim is to inspire anyone interested in the plight of the insects to plant a butterfly-friendly garden of their own anywhere the work or live.
Butterfly gardens do not have to be massive endeavors. They can be effective “in a container, front yard, library grounds, school or… place of business”. In other words no place should be considered too small or out of the way to make a big difference. They offer online information about creating gardens, educational videos on their website, and discussion opportunities through their annual symposium. The Butterfly Trail started in Plains, GA, but now has close to 1200 gardens in their network scattered across the USA as well as in Canada, Europe, and Japan. Joining the garden is free, you only need to commit to provide nectar and host plants to butterflies common in your area. Starting your own butterfly garden is easy and in doing so you will give Monarchs a place to lay their eggs and recover during their incredible sojourns.
On Saturday 5/22 at 10am we will be cutting the ribbon on our own Butterfly Garden at Cafe Campesino. We will also be hosting a plant sale featuring two gorgeous types of azaleas grown by acclaimed native azalea expert Ernest Koone and named for Rosalynn Carter and President Jimmy Carter. The sale, which will also feature native milkweed and pollinator plants, is being held from 9am-1pm behind the cafe and proceeds will go to support the important work for the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail. We hope to see you there! If you cannot make it, or even if you can, please consider grabbing a bag or two of our Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail blend. It raises funds and public awareness for the Trail and it tastes awesome to boot!