A local gardener shares the secret that attracts butterflies and reduces your carbon footprint.
By Jared DeYoung
Each spring we are privileged to witness the migration of butterflies. We see the lurching, aimless flutter of some of our continent’s prettiest insects. From the famous orange and black Monarch, to the dazzling yellow of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, these creatures grace us yearly with their beauty.
I, personally, am chomping at the bit to head out to Van Raalte park with my nearly two year old daughter to watch her gaze for the first time on Painted-Ladies, Checkered Whites, and Common Wood-Nymphs. I can only imagine her delighted giggle. Unfortunately, places like Van Raaltie park, habitats for butterflies and other creatures, are disappearing. Much of these woodlands are home to so much beauty and diversity. But they’ve been replaced by cropland. What’s left is slowly getting gobbled up by real estate development. We are creating losers among God’s weakest creatures. Granted, farming is an important part of the greater Holland area. Without it we would not have the historic Heinz Pickle Factory, Hudsonville celery, ZFS, or the Critterbarn, and housing is vital to our community. However, farming and real estate need not be opposed to healthy ecosystems. We must find a way to care for all members who share our climate.
Enter the butterfly garden. Each of us can dedicate a small–or not so small–patch of lawn, fill it with a glorious, cacophony of color and wait for the pollinators to descend. Like ants to that forgotten patch of spilled sugar, they will come. These gardens provide food and shelter for our flitting friends. And they typically don’t require the work of a well ordered, carefully pruned English style garden. For more information about butterfly gardens click here, or here, or here. If you’d prefer not to get bogged down and overwhelmed in an internet bunny trail, head over to DeGraaf Nature Center or Hemlock Crossing. The people there are knowledgeable, and helpful.
The Benefits of a Butterfly Garden
One important question has yet to be answered. What do butterfly gardens have to do with our lovely West Michigan climate?
While my answer is by no means exhaustive, three areas come to mind. First, by dedicating land to pollinators we will have to mow less. Lawn Mowers contribute a surprising amount of pollutants to our atmosphere, according to this study around 27 million tons in 2011. By reducing our lawn size, we will use less gas mowing, thereby emitting less greenhouse gasses.
Second, with the increasingly sporadic rain and snow, allowing water to rest where it lands becomes incredibly important. Both Butterfly gardens and rain gardens help the soil absorb water. Because there is more water held by the soil, I will have to water the yard less often. This not only lowers the water bill, but also reduces the carbon emitting energy needed to filter and purify that water. As a bonus, there will also be less flooding, and an increase in our diminishing groundwater supply.
Thirdly, the plants found in butterfly gardens deposit atmospheric carbon into the soil. More carbon in the soil means less in the atmosphere. While the carbon sequestration powers of most pollinator friendly plants may not be as significant as our Michigan forests, every little bit helps.
Don’t forget to sign this petition asking our city council to reduce our carbon footprint.