The iconic and beloved Monarch Butterfly is unique to Southwestern Ontario and migrates to the area annually, where for several months, it calls our outdoor spaces home. The Monarch, known for its vibrant colours and intricate markings, shocked Butterfly lovers everywhere when it was recently placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species.
Experts point to several reasons why the Monarch Butterfly population is in decline, such as pesticide use, climate change, impacts to habitat and a distinct lack of the host plant Monarchs depend on to live, Milkweed.
A nature lover and Butterfly enthusiast has launched the Fly Home Project, an initiative that aims to improve the availability of Milkweed plants to the Monarch by providing free Milkweed seeds to anyone who requests them and is willing to plant them on their property in Waterloo Region and surrounding area. The program is the first of its kind in Ontario and hopes to create a community based solution and attract and support Monarch Butterflies in the area.
"As a local Real Estate Agent I'm always impressed by the beautiful outdoor spaces and talented gardeners we have in our community. I have also found that clients are consistently looking to plant gardens in their future homes and by providing Milkweed seeds to those with the skill and space to plant them, provides a broader area and stronger chance for the Monarch Butterfly to survive," said Alana Russell of Royal LePage Crown Realty.
The IUCN website indicates the western population is at greatest risk of extinction, having declined by an estimated 99.9%, from as many as 10 million to 1,914 butterflies between the 1980s and 2021. The larger eastern population also shrunk by 84% from 1996 to 2014.
"We often hear of Endangered Species being at risk of extinction in other areas of the world and it can be easy to sit back," said Russell. "But, when the solution is in our own backyards - literally- now is the time to act in order to save these beautiful creatures and preserve an international symbol of hope."
The Milkweed seeds have been sourced from a family owned Ontario company, Northern Wildflowers, an aspect that was important to Russell. Seeds should be planted in the late fall, immediately after the first frost and participants are asked to follow the instructions on the seed packet carefully. Anyone who wishes to request seeds to plant in their garden can do so by completing the request form.
"I'm not exactly a green thumb," said Russell, admitting her first attempt at planting seeds last year didn't culminate into anything. "My hope is to get these seeds into the hands of people who enjoy gardening, are willing to help, and who want to make a difference."
Milkweed seeds are available while supplies last. Waterloo Region and surrounding area only (for now).