monarch butterflies logan long

On July 21, the International Union for Conservation of Nature added the migratory monarch butterfly to its list of endangered species. In the past decade, according to the IUCN, habitat loss and climate change have led to a steep decline in monarch butterfly populations.

What can we do locally?

Since 2012, anywhere from 20 percent to 70 percent of the global monarch butterfly population has vanished, and the population has been shrinking for even longer.

“The decline of monarchs is caused by a whole cocktail of challenges: habitat loss, overuse of pesticides, and climate change,” Dr. Wendy Anderson told The Beacon. “To protect this species and so many other important pollinator species, we need to provide pockets of larval and adult food and protection along their entire migratory route between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. Every pollinator garden with native plants helps!”

Anderson is a professor of environmental science at Stetson University in DeLand. She’s an advocate for smart growth and environmentalism, and she’s in good company in DeLand.

In 2015, seeking to bolster monarch populations across the country, the Washington-based nonprofit organization Monarch USA began naming cities Monarch Cities.

In 2018, DeLand was the first in Florida to be given the title, and the city promised to work to conserve the species through partnerships with local conservation organizations.

Since then, 16 more Florida cities have been named Monarch Cities, including four more in Volusia County: Deltona, Lake Helen, Orange City and New Smyrna Beach.

The Garden Club of DeLand has led the local effort to help monarchs. The club has been around since the 1920s, and members made a big push for butterfly conservation in recent years.

“We decided to start a circle in the Garden Club called the Milkweed Circle, and our focus would be on protecting monarch butterflies,” longtime Garden Club member Karen Hall told The Beacon.

Each of the Garden Club’s circles focuses on specific aspects of gardening. The Firecracker Circle, for example, maintains the pots of local plants in Downtown DeLand and raises money for camps that teach kids about local plants.

The Milkweed Circle certifies local gardens as monarch-sanctuary gardens and maintains the Sensory Butterfly Garden at Bill Dreggors Park in DeLand.

The No. 1 thing West Volusians can do to help monarchs is to make their homes butterfly-friendly. The easiest way to do that is to plant milkweed, which is considered a host plant for monarch butterflies.

“Each butterfly has what we call a host plant, which is the plant where they lay their eggs,” Hall explained. “You have to plant the host plants for them to come, and then you need the nectar plant, too.”

Hall explained why nectar plants, like pentas, a Florida-friendly perennial, are important.

“That’s where most of your pretty pictures of a butterfly come from,” Hall said. “They’ve landed on a nectar plant to feed.”

All that said, it’s important to make sure you’re mindful of what type of milkweed you’re planting. Much of the milkweed for sale at big-box stores is a nonnative variety that may discourage migration and could carry viruses that could harm caterpillars and butterflies.

“The idea is if you have milkweed that is constantly dying back in the winter, then the disease dies back with it, and you have less problems with the caterpillars,” Dr. Cynthia Bennington said.

Bennington is a professor of biology at Stetson University, and her expertise is with pollinators.

While the news that the monarch butterfly is endangered on a global scale is scary, she believes there’s reason to be optimistic.

“They’re such a visual icon in a way,” Bennington said. “We’re a Monarch City, but if you protect habitats for monarchs, if you’re providing nectar sources for the adults, you’re providing nectar sources for all kinds of bees and butterflies.”

In short, doing more to protect monarch butterflies will help other insect populations, which feed birds, and helps the entire ecosystem. And all of that starts with planting some milkweed and making sure the caterpillars, when they hatch, have something to eat.

More information about how to join the DeLand Garden Club and what each of the club’s circles do is available on its website,

Beginning in September, the Garden Club’s newest circle, the Wild Coffee Circle, will meet at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of every month. The Wild Coffee Circle will focus on native plants and attracting native species, including monarch butterflies.


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