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Lakeland butterfly gardens help reverse population decline of the monarch

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Posted at 6:23 PM, Jul 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-20 18:44:09-04

LAKELAND, Fla.  — Monarch butterflies are one of the most iconic species of our nation, but the population has dropped to all-time lows. Dozens of monarchs call Lakeland’s Common Ground Park home.

“We planted the milkweed plants and within I'm saying two or three days, they show up,” said Bill Koen, Horticultural Specialist for the City of Lakeland.

Common Ground Park is one of four butterfly gardens created by the City of Lakeland and plans to add two more are underway.

“The purpose of the gardens are actually two-fold. One is to increase the population of butterflies in Lakeland. The other is to add beauty to the city,” Koen said.

There is an urgent push to conserve the western monarch butterfly. Last month, the U.S. Interior department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service held the first-ever monarch butterfly summit in Washington D.C., to address the long-term population decline of the species.

"It’s not extinct but the numbers are way down due to some environmental issues and loss of habitat,” Koen said.

Koen said the gardens contain several types of butterfly-attracting plants including milkweed, the host plant for the monarch butterfly. The butterflies lay their eggs and milkweed produces a hormone that protects caterpillars from predators.

“We planted these milkweeds just yesterday and pretty soon the butterflies will find them, and it won't be long before they lay their eggs and the caterpillars will be there before you know it,” said Koen.

With monarchs plummeting toward extinction, it is more important than ever for people to take part in their conservation. The City of Lakeland is offering free milkweed plants so residents can create their own butterfly habitat at home.

"I’m seeing an increase everywhere I go around Lakeland. So, hopefully what we’re doing in our small part of the world is helping solve the problem,” said Koen.