GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Calvin Ecosystem Preserve and Native Gardens is home to 104 acres of protected wildlife. Hundreds of plants, animals and insects fill the forest, including the monarch butterfly.
“We actually have been really fortunate to have a lot of monarch butterflies passing through, which is great because last year they were put on the endangered species list,” Jen Howell, Calvin University Preserve manager, said.
Howell says it will take years for the monarch butterfly to get off the endangered list. The species found themselves endangered after losing nearly 70-90% of forest in Southern California and Mexico. This is where the species goes to breed during the winter months.
“We can’t do as much about that there, but we can certainly provide habitat when they move back up here,” Howell said. “We can really provide for monarchs by providing their nectar and host plants, so lots of milkweeds and lots of other wildflowers.”
By planting milkweed, wildflowers and native trees like oak or cherry, butterflies will have ample food.
“Even though we need the prairie habitats and larger scale to support these organisms, it’s really crucially important that people who have a tiny niche in their backyard, it’s not to be underestimated. Those little landscapes can have big ecological impacts,” Howell said.
Butterflies are a critical mass of Michigan’s food web. For example, a pair of chickadees (birds) typically have to collect 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars in the first six weeks of their youths’ lives. Without butterflies producing that crucial food, the chickadee population will diminish. While the butterfly’s life lasts typically just a few weeks, multiple generations can be born within a growing season.
Avoiding neonicotinoids, a commonly used insecticide, is also important. Neonicotinoids spread throughout the plant poisoning any insect that comes into contact with it.
Howell urges Michiganders to “procrastinate” tidying up their gardens in the early spring. By waiting a few weeks into spring before planting or renovating the garden can save butterflies’ lives.
“You’re taking that plant matter out of your garden before they’ve had a chance to emerge from their chrysalis, then you’re removing those butterflies from their habitat,” she said.
Butterflies tend to be most active during the summer months, specifically July and August, on sunny days.
“The butterflies do well in terms of getting people to care about them, so I’m hopeful that will continue and they’ll realize how much more boring the landscape would be without them,” Howell said.
Calvin University Preserve and Native Gardens will be hosting a native plant sale on May 13 and Aug. 19 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Students and staff will be available to guide customers on what plants are fit for them. All proceeds go back into restoring the native gardens and supporting student wages to do so.