July 6, 2022

Local Pollinator Project Launched By Friends of Princeton Open Space

ATTRACTING POLLINATORS: Native flowering plants encourage the presence of local pollinators and beneficial insects such as this eastern monarch butterfly. (Photo by Thelma Heidel-Baker, Xerces Society)

By Anne Levin

With their bright orange wings and prominent black veins edged with delicate white dots, monarch butterflies are among the most recognizable fluttering insects. While admired for their beauty, they are also valued for the vital role they play in the natural ecosystem.

Like bees, monarch butterflies help flowering plants through the pollination process. They are also a critical part of the food web, becoming a source of food for birds, other insects, and small animals. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, three quarters of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on animal pollinators to reproduce. But climate change and other factors are posing an increasing threat. The monarch is now a candidate to be listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, according to the organization Friends of the Earth.

But they are not extinct yet. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a nonprofit named after an extinct California butterfly (the Xerces blue), aims to protect the natural world by conserving invertebrates and their habitat. Recently, the organization named Friends of Princeton Open Space (FOPOS) among the community partners chosen to take part in a regional pollinator program.

FOPOS received a gift of Northeast Monarch and Pollinator Habitat Kits from the Xerces Society last month. Not long after, more than 50 volunteers and summer interns gathered at the Billy Johnson Mountain Lakes Preserve to help create a habitat for the monarch butterfly and other beneficial pollinators. The kits are used to create or enhance monarch and pollinator habitat in urban farms, working lands, schools and campuses, parks, and other areas.

“We are pleased to be chosen to participate in the Xerces Northeast Monarch and Pollinator Habitat Kit Program,” said Anna Corichi, FOPOS director of natural resources and stewardship. “In planting this kit, the Mountain Lakes Preserve will become an essential partner in conserving the eastern monarch butterfly and other essential pollinators, and help us to create a high-quality pollinator habitat that will be protected and maintained for the long term.”

An article on the Xerces Society’s website said the call for groups and individuals to apply for the kits got many more requests than the organization could supply. “In making the final selection of who would get kits, special consideration was given to projects that incorporated educational programs and outreach, contributed to community science projects, or engaged underserved populations.”

The habitat kits provided by the Xerces Society contain regionally appropriate milkweed species, a critical host plant for monarch caterpillars, and a variety of nectar plants attractive to monarchs and other adult butterflies. The plants in the kits also support a diversity of other local pollinators and beneficial insects over their full life cycle, according to FOPOS.

The volunteers worked hard to create a pollinator habitat. “I want to give a big shout-out to our amazing volunteers and interns,” said Corichi. “Thanks to their efforts, 700 plugs were planted, representing 11 species of pollinator-friendly plants, including swamp milkweed, a critical food source for monarch caterpillars. Pollinators are an essential element in maintaining biodiversity, and are a vital link in the production of the world’s food crops.”

For more information, including volunteer opportunities, visit fopos.org.