Photo: Help us bring back the butterflies

The world is a better place with monarch butterflies, which are important pollinators. (Credit: Laura Timmermans)

By Jode Roberts

You may know that monarch populations in Mexico plummeted to a record low of about 33.5 million this winter, compared to an annual average of 350 million over the past 15 years. A principal cause is the dramatic loss of the single species monarchs depend on: milkweed.

Monarchs travel thousands of kilometres each spring to spend their summers in southern Canada. To make the journey from Mexico and the southern U.S., monarchs need milkweed. Monarch mothers only lay their eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves, and the caterpillars dine on the plant. Although it was once common in fields, road- sides and farmland, almost 90 per cent has vanished from some areas because of agricultural practices and widespread herbicide use.

While the leaders of Mexico, Canada and the U.S. have promised to help the butterflies—in response to urging from a growing chorus of scientists, writers and conservationists — we are excited about the potential for concerned citizens across the country to pitch in.

The simplest way to help monarchs — and other butterflies and insects — is to add milkweed and nectar-producing native flowers to balconies, gardens, parks and green spaces in your community. It's a fun way to get kids interested in nature's wonders. And it will beautify and bring butterflies to your neighbourhood.

As part of our Homegrown National Park Project, this spring we're launching a Toronto-based campaign to crowd-source a milk- weed corridor through the city. Milkweed plants will be available through our website ( for residents to plant in their yards and balconies, or you can support our team of Homegrown Park Rangers, who will plant milkweed and other pollinator-friendly flowers and shrubs in parks and schoolyards.

You can also help researchers better understand the butterfly's breeding, migrating and overwintering cycles by becoming a citizen scientist. The U.S. Monarch Joint Venture website offers numerous resources for citizens to track migration, count butterflies and monitor larval populations and disease for monarchs — and other butterflies.

Check our website for resources to help protect pollinators like bees and butterflies, including how to raise your own monarchs, create milkweed and butterfly gardens and even certify your yard as a monarch way station. Join us in bringing back the butterflies this summer.