By Krista Schwimmer
Throughout time, the butterfly has come to symbolize many things. Serbians claim it is the soul of a witch that one can destroy by turning the witches’ body around while she sleeps. Aztecs associate this wondrous creature with one of their most important deities, Tlaloc, the God of rain, lighting, and thunder. During times of drought, special rituals were often made to Tlaloc.
Among the subfamily, Danainae, however, there is one butterfly reknown for its markings and its migration: the monarch. Called a symbol of hope, this incredible insect spans three continents, crossing at least two of them to complete its spectacular, annual journey. In spite of the reverence many have for monarchs, their migration is gravely endangered due largely to loss of habitat.
In 2008, the Tri-national Commission for Environmental Cooperation published the North American Monarch Conservation Plan (NAMCP). The plan outlines the necessary habitat conservation and restoration for the monarch to survive. One such critical recommendation revolves around the milkweed plant, the sole food for monarch larvae. Once plentiful in the farming areas, the current agribusiness has little use for this plant. Without milkweed, the monarchs will disappear.
Throughout Canada, North America, and Mexico, individuals and communities are helping to preserve this black and orange beauty by simply planting milkweed. But not just any milkweed – milkweed that is native to the region. In the Southeast, this poses another problem since native seeds and plants are not readily available commercially. Conservation groups, such as the Xerces Society, are working on developing remedies for this problem.
Venice resident Charlotte Rule is one such individual, taking monarch matters into her own hands by planting. She planted her first milkweed, from seed, four years ago in the Venice Community Garden. Soon after, her huge milkweed plant became the home of as many as nineteen monarch caterpillars at a time. So needed are these plants, that Charlotte found caterpillars at unexpected times of the year.
At one point, she found a pupae. When the monarch emerged, however, one of its wings was folded. Instead of giving up on it, Charlotte took it home. When asked how does one care for an injured butterfly, Charlotte replied: “You build this little thing outside with sticks and you make a barrier because they fall in everything when they can’t fly, then their wings get damaged. And sometimes they hurt their legs so you have to build them things to fall on, like a trapeze.” Monarchs don’t like every flower, either. As a result, Charlotte found herself feeding hers melon juice placed on her hand, in addition to flower nectar. At night, the insect would fold up its wings and burrow deeply into one particular plant.
When developers crushed the Venice Community Garden, Charlotte’s milkweed and caterpillars were in danger. Luckily, she found places for both. One caterpillar went to the Learning Garden at Venice High School. The second one came home with her. “And that’s the one that ended up emerging right in front of my face,” exclaimed Charlotte.
Like the four generations that monarchs go through that culminate in the annual migration, Charlotte’s devotion to these magical creatures has moved from place to place. Now she, along with some of the neighbors on Market Street, are in the initial stages of creating the first monarch corridor located in the Historic Lost Canal’s District of Venice.
On Friday, April 18, Charlotte, Annette Garcia-Kerslake, Nori Takei, and Stephen Lock broke ground with their first milkweed plant. With pitchfork and shovel, everyone took turns digging and then planting the single bush. Once they were finished, they placed a handmade placard beside it. The placard depicts a butterfly with a red heart and the project’s name: “Market Street ‘Monarch Not Monarchy’ Pollinator Project 2014.” With the help of Chris Lee, Cindy Lee, and Ralph, more milkweed was planted, making the total on Market Street five. Within a week, the first monarch landed. Seeing Market Street’s efforts, neighbors from Broadway have also pledged to plant their own milkweed. Charlotte hopes all of Venice will commit to building this unique corridor before the current rampant development takes away all butterflies and other wildlife.
The NAMCP specifically cites commercial and municipal development in California as an immediate cause of the destruction of the monarch’s habitat. In a time when reckless development seeks to destroy Venice, what better thing to do than join the folks on Market Street in their project. Who knows – perhaps the way to overthrow the powers is not by force, but by soul – by inviting true royalty into our midst: the monarch butterfly. Although this creature’s lifespan may not be as long as ours, it is a life that reflects magic through its metamorphosis, wealth through its pollination, and joy through its migration.
To see Charlotte’s butterfly video’s and work, go to: http://www.munchimonster.com
For more information about how to help monarchs, here are some suggestions: