Plant locally native host plants in your garden. A butterfly is a caterpillar’s way of making another caterpillar. Caterpillars are picky eaters, and most gardens and yards are full of beautiful plants that they just can’t eat! Imagine if your kids could only eat apples, and every store and farmer’s market around decided to stop stocking apples and replaced them with pears. You’d be desperate for a source of apples! If you plant what they need, they will reward you with another generation of butterflies. A few chewed up leaves is a small price to pay for such beauty.
- Skip the pesticides and herbicides. It sounds obvious, but many people who desperately want butterflies in their garden think nothing of spraying poisonous chemicals all over their plants. Aside from polluting our water, air, and soil, it also kills the very butterflies they’re hoping to attract! Weed by hand, find non-toxic methods of pest control, and be comfortable with a bit of imperfection. It’s better for you, and better for butterflies.
- Don’t be fooled by labels at the garden center. Just because a plant is labeled “butterfly friendly” doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for Orange County! Many “butterfly friendly” plants do more harm than good. For example, many people plant blood milkweed hoping to help monarchs, but this tropical species does not go dormant in the winter, which is interrupting the monarch migration and contributing to the spread of the OE parasite among the local population. Non-native plants are often invasive, and their seeds often escape into wild habitat and choke out the native species.
- Help those garden centers see the light! By sharing your concerns about invasive exotic plants, you can help garden centers become a better resource for the average gardener. Help them find non-invasive alternatives.
- Help your local government see the light, too! Think of all the public spaces with inappropriate landscaping. When citizens speak up, government bodies listen. Many municipalities have begun making the switch to drought-tolerant plants, but they need the extra nudge to plant NATIVE drought tolerant plants. Being drought-tolerant isn’t helpful if those plants can become invasive and destroy habitat!
- Volunteer to help restore habitat. A few yards and parkways full of natives helps a little, but butterflies need wild habitat too! Volunteering to help wildland management agencies remove those invasive species is a fantastic way to make sure we have butterflies for future generations to enjoy. Restoring habitat requires many hands, and help is always appreciated. Google “habitat restoration Orange County” to find organizations that would love a helping hand!
- Avoid releasing commercially raised butterflies! Many butterfly lovers are thrilled when local elementary schools choose to raise and release butterflies as a project. Releasing commercially-raised butterflies can introduce parasites and diseases into wild populations, and feeds into the demand for inappropriate host plants that eventually destroy habitat. Encourage teachers and schools to plant native butterfly gardens to attract wild butterflies instead of buying caterpillars to raise in the classroom. The kids will get a lesson on butterflies AND botany, and won’t contribute to the problems threatening wild butterflies.
- Volunteer to be a Butterfly House Docent at the ENC! Hundreds of people visit the ENC’s Butterfly House every year, and docents are the key to sharing knowledge. By sharing information (such as this list!), you can help a person who is already interested in butterflies become a champion for conservation. Sign up for training (April 11, 2015) HERE.
- Donate! Environmental education and habitat restoration are expensive! Volunteers get us halfway there, but it takes money to pay the bills. Insurance, equipment, plants, water…. The costs add up! Every dollar counts! If you can’t donate money, ask the organization what’s on their wish list. Who knows- you might just have something they need gathering dust in your shed!
- Learn more! There is always more to learn. Study your favorite species, their life cycle, their historical range, their favorite plants, the habitats that support those plants, the other species that reside in that habitat… everything is interconnected, and understanding those connections is the key to making sure butterflies are here for generations to come.
– Leslie Helliwell, ENC Museum Collections Manager