Lakeland Adding More Butterfly Gardens to Boost Dwindling Monarch Numbers

The city of Lakeland is adding two more butterfly gardens to the four it already maintains in an effort to help restore the monarch butterfly population. In addition, the city is offering residents free milkweed plants in order to encourage more home butterfly gardens.

Monarch butterflies are some of the most recognizable butterfly species in North America, characterized by their orange and black markings.

The butterfly gardens are being added near the entrances of:

  • The Coleman Bush Building, 1104  Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.
  • John McGee Park, 2125 S. Edgewood Drive. McGee Park was formerly known as the Cypress Youth Sports Complex.

“Butterfly gardens are a real hot trend in horticulture right now,” said Lakeland Horticultural Specialist Bill Koen, who has worked for the city for more than 50 years.

Butterfly gardens already exist at:

  • Common Ground Park, 1000 E. Edgewood Drive
  • Hollis Garden, 702 E. Orange St.
  • City Hall, 228 S. Massachusetts Ave.
  • Lakeland Public Library, 100 Lake Morton Drive

“People like the butterfly gardens. The kids love them,” Koen said.

Besides adding beauty to the parks and city buildings, the butterfly gardens also serve a critical need of replenishing a dwindling population of butterflies, Koen said.

A monarch near the entrance of Common Ground Park

“The monarch butterfly as an endangered or threatened species is warranted but precluded by higher priorities,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in December 2020, after environmentalists petitioned for it.

Last month, the U.S. Interior Department and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service held a summit in Washington D.C., on conservation actions to address the long-term population decline of monarch butterflies, according to a news release. In the 1980s, there were an estimated 4.5 million monarch butterflies along the California coast, but scientists believe that number has declined more than 95 percent, according to the news release. Some of the causes include habitat loss, pesticides, and effects of climate change including drought.

In the past, Koen said it was difficult to maintain the city’s butterfly gardens due to insecticides killing them off. About two years ago, he said the city switched to using the Ventigra insecticide.

“It’s an amazing  breakthrough,” Koen said. “We can spray our plants in and around the butterfly gardens and not hurt the caterpillars, bees, butterflies, or anything.”

Koen believes increasing the prevalence of butterfly gardens across Lakeland is one small step in restoring their population. To entice butterflies to the area, Koen said workers plant milkweed. This process is already under way outside the Coleman Bush Building. Koen estimates workers will finish creating the butterfly garden there in less than two months.

“The monarch butterflies tend to be attracted to certain plants,” Koen added, also sharing that milkweed plants are their favorite, along with nectar plants, which they like to feed on.

According to Koen, the project isn’t expensive considering the city grows its own milkweed in its nursery.

A real monarch pauses briefly on a plant near a butterfly sculpture at Common Ground Park

Koen said the city is willing to help residents start their own butterfly gardens, by offering free milkweed plants. He said there’s an enormous supply of the plant in the city’s nursery. Residents can arrange to pick up milkweed by sending an email to the Parks Department.

“We plant milkweed around the city to help increase the number of monarch butterflies. If we don’t help, the population will keep getting smaller and smaller,” Koen explained.

Koen said once the milkweed is planted, butterflies show up in days. However, for them to create new life, they undergo a four-stage metamorphosis, which includes mating and laying eggs, the caterpillar and cocoon stage, and then the transition into adult butterflies.

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