In preparation for this year’s monarch migration, Mayor Kate Gallego proclaimed September 2021 to be “Planting for Monarchs Month” in order to encourage Phoenix residents to plant plants that will aid monarch butterflies in their nearly 3,000-mile-journey between Canada and Mexico.
“Back in April of this year, the mayor signed the National Wildlife Federation’s ‘Mayor’s Monarch Pledge,’” said Tricia Balluff, environmental programs coordinator for the city of Phoenix.
“That pledge committed the city to taking certain actions to help support the monarch butterfly population, which is really important because it’s been declining dramatically.”
A likely result of climate change, pesticides and loss of habitat, the monarch butterfly population has dwindled by 99%, according to the city of Phoenix’s website. Less than 2,000 butterflies were observed overwintering in 2020, an extremely small amount compared to the 1.2 million that were observed in 1997.
According to Balluff, the goal of Planting for Monarchs Month is to encourage the Phoenix community to plant more butterfly-friendly plants in their gardens to help them survive their migration, whether it be a big butterfly garden or just a single pot of milkweed on a balcony.
“We know that when the community all works together to support a goal, that can make a huge difference and we can create this web of habitat resources for the monarchs throughout the city and hopefully even throughout the region,” she said. “This population needs our help and we can each do something to help contribute to the survival of this species.”
Adriane Grimaldi is the director of education at Butterfly Wonderland in Scottsdale. According to her, the most important plants for monarchs at the moment are those that supply nectar, which will give the butterflies energy to continue their long journey south to Mexico.
On their way back up to Canada, however, they will need host plants to lay their eggs in. Milkweed functions as both a nectar plant and a host plant. An added plus, desert milkweed and Arizona milkweed are great to plant in the Valley area.
“Monarchs do come through the Phoenix and Scottsdale area as a part of the migration, so we should be seeing them here shortly,” Grimaldi said. “We already have reports that monarchs are flying through.”
Balluff said that not only is Planting for Monarchs month a great opportunity to help the monarchs as they migrate south, but also to conserve the biodiversity of the Sonoran Desert by planting plants that are native to the area.
“Our insects, our birds, our wildlife, our plant life, they all evolve together and they all rely on each other,” Balluff said. “When we mess with that balance of biodiversity, then it just throws things off and we are more likely to see losses of species in our area than we would if we just focused on native biodiversity.”
Prioritizing native plants also helps with water conservation efforts, since plants that have adapted to the desert climate don’t require as much water as ornamental plants do.
Balluff said that planting for monarchs shouldn’t just be confined to September; it’s important that the community continues to try to aid the monarchs as much as they can, especially since they are a key pollinator in the Sonoran Desert.
“It’s all about creating this pathway of resources for the monarchs to be able to continue their migration journey through Phoenix,” she said. “The smallest things, when we work together as a community, can have a magnificent effect.”
Editor’s Note: Kate Duffy is a student reporter at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications.