Butterflies bring hope
T.O.’s milkweed mania delivers monarchs
Folks in Eastern Canada may have noticed something joyous in the air this summer: an abundance of monarch butterflies. After a couple of decades of decline, it appears monarchs had a great summer, culminating in an unusually strong migration over the past few weeks, with ribbons of orange “500 miles wide” flowing southward.
The return of monarchs is great news because only four years ago their situation looked bleak. The eastern monarch population had plummeted from one billion two decades before to only 35 million.
The dramatic decline spurred the David Suzuki Foundation’s first #Gotmilkweed campaign. The foundation offered milkweed plants, which monarchs require for survival.
Canadians’ collective love for monarchs and the urgency of their plight translated into brisk sales, resulting in the distribution of more than 30,000 milkweed plants and a half-million seeds.
City governments have also taken flight. Markham became the first monarch-friendly city in Canada. Toronto became the largest city in North America to sign the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge, while also adopting one of Canada’s most ambitious pollinator strategies.
Milkweed can now be found in many garden centres and nurseries in Toronto and elsewhere. The transformation of milkweed from noxious weed to Eastern Canada’s most in-demand native plant in a few short years is nothing short of inspirational.
But we still wondered monarchs would come back.
One of the biggest drivers of monarch decline is use of the herbicide glyphosate (a.k.a. Roundup) that has eradicated milkweed on millions of hectares of cropland along monarch migration routes. Extreme weather is monarch enemy number two. Severe droughts can cause havoc, and winter storms can wipe out tens of millions of monarchs. So, even if we plant a ton of milkweed, monarchs won’t be out of the woods. This summer, though, has been epic. The migration northward was strong, and our summer weather was ideal from a monarch’s perspective. Renowned monarch researcher Chip Taylor at the University of Kansas has suggested this winter’s population may be the strongest in a decade.
Although the future of monarchs remains in peril, we should savour the wonder of these butterflies and celebrate the collective impact that we can have when we dig in.
Plant your milkweed indoors in December. Transfer outdoors after the last frost. David Suzuki is the host of the CBC’s The Nature of Things and author of more than 30 books on ecology (with files from Jode Roberts).