News of the addition of the monarch butterflies to the “endangered” species list has caught the attention of the Dade City Garden Club.
The garden club is the group that spearheaded efforts that led to Dade City being declared a Monarch City USA in 2019.
The club’s work resulted in the East Pasco town to be declared one of 17 cities across Florida to bear that designation.
So, with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s addition of monarch butterflies to its “endangered” species list, it underscored the importance of protecting the winged creatures, according to Joan Hepscher, co-chair of the Dade City Garden Club’s Birds, Bees & Butterflies committee, and chair of the Monarch Butterfly Festival.
This is the first time Union for the Conservation of Nature has included the migrating monarch butterfly on its “red list” of threatened species, categorizing it as “endangered,” — just two steps from extinction.
The conservation group has estimated that the population of monarch butterflies in North America has declined nearly 72% over 10 years.
And the conservation group’s recent designation “was a real kick in the pants for us,” Hepscher said.
“Our mission has always been to get out the message, but now it will be getting it out to the individual person — you can see people really care because people were really upset about it and saying, ‘Oh, no! Can you believe it? What can I do?’” she added. “We, as a group, use the monarch as the poster child to make people aware of all the things we are doing to nature, and the butterfly is a good mirror to how our nature is doing. So it’s about not only helping the monarch, but also our whole environment and getting the message out to take better care of our world.”
Now, helping monarchs with their migration has become key to their survival.
“Homeowners can have plants to support these magnificent animals,” said Dr. Whitney Elmore, director of Pasco County Extension, a partnership between Pasco County and the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Planting milkweed is the best way to help because milkweed is the only plant monarch caterpillars eat, and it’s where the adult butterflies lay their eggs. Without this plant, the species simply could not exist.
Milkweed is low maintenance, Elmore said. But she cautioned it’s important to purchase the plants from reputable nurseries, to be sure they are free of pesticides.
The horticulture expert also noted that monarchs need “rest areas,” because they undertake the longest migration of any insect species known to science.
“Just like drivers, they need a place to stop and rest. If there are large areas or no stations around, they are going to be stressed,” she said.
Unfortunately, urban development and environmental depletion have hindered the migration. Fortunately, adding the resting places is not complicated, she added.
“Rocks and twigs — a place to sit and rest, even provide fresh water with a low dish on the ground and a stone in there to rest. Or habitats for them to roost, like Spanish moss — just providing a diversity of things in your garden can help attract them and move along in migration.”
Hepscher agrees, adding that while there are “plenty of milkweed tips on social media,” the monarchs really need “weigh stations” for their migration.
“They just need a place to stop and refresh and have nectar, a place to lay their eggs,” Hepscher said.
“Small pockets around town and county will give them what they need to survive. Pocket gardens will help because they don’t need 20 acres,” she said.
Elmore encourages citizens to contact the local Extension Office for additional information about how to help monarchs and other species.
“We have all the info on how to attract pollinators,” Elmore added. “A 72% decline in monarch population, which is bad, is from losing the plants and habitats they need. But there are 17 cities in Florida that are monarch cities, and the garden club works very hard at (its efforts).”
Hepscher vows the garden club is committed to continuing its efforts.
“We are going to really try to get more gardens right in the city — just little spots they can use and get some other organizations to help us with the awareness,” she added. “The festival will really be making the point that anyone can make a difference. It is scary news, but the reality is that if we stop and do our part, we can really help them — and we can help them today.”
Third annual Monarch Butterfly Festival
When: Oct. 22, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: Polly Touchton Park, 13620 Seventh St., Dade City
Details: Local vendors will be on hand, as will the Dade City Garden Club to promote awareness of the city’s efforts to maintain the survival of the monarch butterflies.
Info: Visit DadeCityGardenClub.com, and click on “Monarch Project,” or visit the Pasco County Extension’s website at SFYL.ifas.ufl.edu/pasco/.
Published August 10, 2022