Dunwoody all in to save butterflies

Monarch on incarnata

Monarch butterflies are beautiful.

As they flit from flower to flower, Monarchs delight young and old, mesmerizing observers with their fluttery movements and striking orange, yellow, black and white color patterns.

The Dunwoody Nature Center (DNC) is on a mission to make DeKalb County residents and people throughout metro Atlanta appreciate these butterflies for more than aesthetic reasons. They want to make the community aware that Monarchs are a vital link in the growth and health of fruits, vegetables and other plants. They also want the community’s help to save the species.

The nature center has launched the Milkweed Project, an initiative to educate people about the plight of Monarch butterflies and to develop more food sources and suitable habitats for the insects.

Alan Mothner, executive director of DNC, said that by some estimates, the population of Monarch butterflies has decreased more than 90 percent in two decades.

The Xerces Society, a major butterfly research organization, estimates that the population of Monarch butterflies was greater than 1 billion in 1992. In the winter of 2013-14, the population was estimated to be 35 million. 

Butterflies are one of the major pollinators of gardens, fields and farms, according to DNC’s website, and are a “critical element in our food supply.”

The city of Dunwoody and Post Properties are partnering with the nature center to plant the Monarch’s favorite food source, milkweed, on the center’s grounds, city parks and Post developments. Post Properties has committed to including milkweed in 47 of its properties in metro Atlanta, Raleigh, N.C. and Charlotte, N.C., as well as help DNC acquire more milkweed plants.

The nature center has begun planting milkweed at its 22-acre property and plantings are planned for Chesnut, Kingsley, Hightower, Vanderlyn and Dunwoody elementary schools.

“We are feeling great,” said Mothner of the response to the project so far. “We’ve gotten tremendous feedback…from everyone who has read and heard about it.

The project has drawn support from corporations as well as garden clubs and homeowners. UPS Foundation has donated $11,700 to the Milkweed Project and the center has received calls from scores of homeowners, he said.

The center hopes to continue to raise additional funds to keep the program going and eventually expand it regionally.

On April 13, the Dunwoody City Council passed a resolution in support of DNC’s project.

“They [the city] committed to planting milkweed in all city parks and working with us on the goal of raising awareness,” said Mothner.

Monarch butterflies fly from North America to spend winters in Mexico before making return journeys home. Without enough milkweed to feed on, the butterflies have a tougher time making the journey. Without milkweed caterpillars have no food source and their life cycle ends, Mothner said
According to DNC’s website, “Every year 100 million monarch butterflies make an extraordinary journey, some of them traveling all the way from Canada to the Transvolcanic Mountains in Mexico, where they will spend the winter. In the spring they will mate and head north once again. The female will fly until she locates a patch of milkweed, then lays her eggs and dies. These eggs will develop through the larva and pupae stage until the newly emerged adults will fly further north to a new patch of milkweed and lay their eggs. This process continues until the Monarch is again spread throughout the U. S. and Canada. This continues through the spring and summer, generation after generation of Monarchs looking for milkweed and laying their eggs.”

“We will be doing our part in helping Monarchs on their migratory journey,” said Mothner.

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