But­ter­flies bring hope

T.O.’s milkweed ma­nia de­liv­ers mon­archs

Bayview Post - - Currents -

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).

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