Butterfly Project is a grass roots, volunteer-led, organization of New Yorkers with a common goal—to promote and assist in the planting and preservation of native plants in urban, public spaces in order to create and strengthen resources for native pollinators. We strive to increase education about native plants while supporting the active participation of people of all ages in local community, school and public gardens. By collaborating with local, city and state organizations, Butterfly Project seeks to advance efforts to sustain and increase habitat suitable for local wildlife.
Butterflies moving through New York City face a fragmented and highly urbanized landscape with few nectar feeding opportunities. Adding native nectar-providing plants (flowers such as Echinacea spp., Aster spp., Asclepias spp., etc.) to community gardens provides important food resources for butterflies. In addition, Butterfly Conservation Areas serve an educational role, helping gardeners and garden visitors to learn about the importance of beneficial pollinator insects such as butterflies, bees and stingless wasps.
During fall 2003, monarchs were flying south, using the Bronx River as a corridor for flight. That season, a group of like-minded people, largely from local conservation organizations, began to meet and voice a number of questions. We wondered what butterflies faced as they migrated through New York City. Did they find the necessary resources to survive and thrive as they passed through the urban expanse? Were there specific things we could do to help?
Our early members were affiliated with organizations such as the Wildlife Conservation Society/Bronx Zoo, the New York Restoration Project, Drew Gardens/Phipps Community Development Corporation, New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Fordham University and the New York City Housing Authority. Most members were based in the Bronx but soon word spread and others from all over New York City joined in.
Although Community gardens were already functioning as centers for urban agriculture and for people’s aesthetic enjoyment of nature, we believed that a movement to increase the presence of pollinator plants in gardens would be welcomed by the city’s gardens. One member had been thinking about butterfly gardens as a way to introduce youth to the natural world. Together, we came to view butterfly gardens as a very effective means to introduce children to what it means to be an active steward of wildlife in cities. Another member, a doctoral candidate at Fordham University, trekked on his bicycle to community gardens all over the Bronx and Northern Manhattan looking for and collecting data about native insects. He wanted to apply his research on pollinators in urban gardens to ensure their survival and increase their numbers.
Butterfly Project’s mission quickly grew to encompass the conservation of all native pollinators. The recognition that adding native plants to gardens would attract beneficial insects and, in turn, discourage garden pest insects prompted us to host our first Native Plant Share. That spring, we gave away 400 plants to anyone working in a community garden willing to come and pick them up. Native Plant Shares were to become our annual signature project. Since that time, we have given away thousands of plants to community and school gardeners from every borough.
We began to encourage gardeners to develop Butterfly Conservation Areas in their gardens. A second project that made its way to the top of the leaf pile was to develop curricula for kids. Like other volunteer organizations, we faced numerous hurdles in finding funding, developing structures for decision-making and completing our projects. Our curriculum guide project was no exception but we persisted and were finally able to realize our goal. Ultimately, the New York City Environmental Fund of the Hudson River Foundation made it possible for us to develop the eight lessons in this guide.
Butterfly Project’s budding future plans include developing a pollinator education apprenticeship program for youth and a mapping project to document current and future Pollinator Conservation Areas in New York City. Such maps will enable us to contribute to the development of a wildlife corridor through New York City. This green highway of community gardens, parks and other planted areas such as New York City Green Streets will provide food and shelter resources for all native insects and ensure the safe passage of migrating pollinators through our great city.