2 min read
Posted on 04.21.14
  • 2 min read
  • Posted on 04.21.14

 St. Louis is at work cultivating the local return of a great migration of butterflies - most specifically, that of the Monarch. It doesn't take much to make a Monarch feel welcome, just a good meal and a safe place to lay their eggs and feed their larvae.

Monarchs play an important pollinator role in our ecosystem as they make their annual epic move from Canada to Mexico, and back again. The skies once were thick with, as Walt Whitman put it, "butterflies and butterflies, all sorts, white, yellow, brown, purple - now and then some gorgeous fellow flashing lazily by on wings like artists' palette dabb'd with every color."

Monarch populations, though, have declined 90 percent over the past two decades. Herbicides have killed their habitat. We can contribute to its revival - each of us, with little effort, in our own yards and gardens. All it takes is to plant a square yard (or more) of a milkweed mix - hardy and handsome non-invasive weeds that are ideal hosts to caterpillars intent on metamorphosis.

City agencies will be working together, joining the St. Louis Zoo, the Missouri Botanical Garden, Forest Park Forever, the Missouri Department of Conservation, and a growing cadre of neighborhood gardeners to establish by the September 2014 migration at least 50 city-sponsored milkweed gardens - at fire houses, police Area Stations and other public places - with residents establishing another 200, as part of the 250th Anniversary celebration of St. Louis' founding.

With that we can become full-fledged members of what's becoming a national Monarch movement.

The St. Louis initiative is a modest but powerful part of Mayor Slay's Sustainability Plan. Its purpose is to reinforce in ways as sublime as the beauty of the butterfly the connections between people and urban natural resources and the joy of experiencing biodiversity in our everyday lives.

Butterflies are more than a source of visual delight and one link of our ecosystem. As the social history "Butterfly People - An American Encounter with the Beauty of the World" has put it, the study of butterflies has been critical to the understanding of the natural world and "not merely at the margins of inquiry, but at the very core of it ... as a way to illuminate the origin and evolution of species."

We owe butterflies plenty. In St. Louis, our hope is to provide them with a safe and nourishing place to land.

Read about the City's efforts and what you can do here and here. Register your milkweed garden here

(Photo: Monarchs seen passing through the 3600 block of Flad Avenue during their autumn 2013 migration.)