In nature, the birds and the bees seem to get all the publicity. In Phoenix, a proclamation is finally giving monarch butterflies their due.
With Phoenix on the 3,000-mile migration route for both eastern and western monarch butterflies, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego issued a proclamation declaring the month of September as “Planting for Monarchs Month.”
The proclamation supports the conservation of Phoenix’s biodiversity and encourages the community to plant milkweed and other native nectar plants to provide habitats for monarch butterflies.
“By helping Monarch butterflies, we can also make our community more ecofriendly and sustainable,” the proclamation states.
Over the past 25 years, the western population of monarch butterflies has declined by almost 99% because of climate change, pesticide use and habitat loss. Monarchs are key pollinators, and they can be seen in Phoenix from September to May before continuing their migration route.
The monarch, however, is not the only key pollinator in Phoenix drawn to milkweed and native nectar plants.
“The things we do for monarchs benefit a wide variety of insects that need conservation,” said Kim Pegram, program director of pollinator conservation and research at the Desert Botanical Garden. “When we promote planting for monarchs, we’re really promoting planting for pollinators.”
The native biodiversity in the area has changed a lot over time, which has pushed Sonoran wildlife to evolve and adapt, according to city of Phoenix Environmental Programs Coordinator Tricia Balluff.
“When we improve and increase the amount of native Sonoran Desert plants in the area, we’re impacting more than just the monarch butterfly,” Balluff said.
Native plants also contribute to water conservation, according to Balluff and Pegram.
“If we choose native plants, they’re not going to require nearly as much water to grow than something that is non-native,” Pegram said.
Planting milkweed provides a sole food source for caterpillars and reduces the amount of water used outdoors. Most of the water used in yards across Phoenix is potable, so Balluff recommends using rainwater as a sustainable way to grow native plants and preserve water use in the city.
Looking toward the future, the Phoenix Office of Environmental Programs is committed to continuing its outreach in the community and spreading the word about the monarch population.
“The September push and the proclamation is all a part of this outreach effort to make sure that the community knows the monarch butterfly population is in peril,” Balluff said.
September is the beginning of fall planting season in Phoenix, which means it is the perfect time to raise awareness and encourage citizens to plant.
Depending on the size, “one milkweed plant can support at least one caterpillar turning into a butterfly,” Pegram said.
With Phoenix being the fifth largest city in the nation, it is important to create little spots within the community for butterflies to get nectar or lay eggs.
“From a plant on a balcony to a whole yard full of milkweed and native nectar plants, even the smallest efforts can all add together to make a difference,” Balluff said.