Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: A Healthy Meadowlands Means Great Butterflies

A selection of butterflies photographed in late afternoon during a Sept visit to Richard W. DeKorte Park in the N.J. Meadowlands.

Butterflies have come to signify many things in different cultures, from a time of transition in one’s life to a symbol of the inner soul. But Butterflies are also a sure sign of a healthy environment, one free of pesticides and rich in biodiversity.

A prime example of a vigorous, healthy butterfly habitat is Richard DeKorte Park in the Meadowlands.

DeKorte, in Lyndhurst, is the flagship of all the parks within the Meadowlands District, a wonderful model of many diverse healthy habitats and countless native plants that benefit the butterflies. As the Meadowlands has become cleaner and restoration projects have taken hold, DeKorte Park, well known for outstanding birding, is now becoming a hot spot for avid butterfly watchers from all over the state.

The Butterfly is like the proverbial “Canary in the Coal Mine.” Enjoying the sight of diverse butterfly species is a sure sign that you are in a healthy environment and by the same token the lack of butterflies means that something is off, out of kilter and out of balance.

Unfortunately, New Jersey’s urban sprawl has eliminated much of our butterfly habitat that we grew up enjoying. The overuse of pesticides, the obsession with large expanses of lawns plus the introduction of non-native and invasive plants to our environment has severely decreased the biodiversity we grew up with. As a result, we see far less of the butterflies we knew as children. But today, in the Meadowlands, that trend is dramatically changing

DeKorte has many areas specifically restored to help our butterflies. Jill’s Garden right outside the Environmental Center is still everyone’s favorite. If you want to venture out around the park a little more the Lyndhurst preserve and the area around the William D. McDowell Observatory can produce great butterflies such as the Wild Indigo Duskywing and the Pearl Crescent, small but beautiful butterflies.

Butterflies depend on many different plants to survive, but they can be broken down into two different categories. Host plants which are the specific plants that a species of butterfly will lay their eggs on, such as milkweed for the magnificent Monarch Butterfly and Spicebush for the beautiful Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies need to bring forth their next generation.

The second category is nectar plants, which the adult butterflies use for their food source such as Purple Coneflower and Joe-Pye Weed.  DeKorte has many areas specifically restored with many of these to help our butterflies. You can enjoy the Butterflies of DeKorte any way you like, from strolling the park or just relaxing on a bench,. But if you really decide to go all out, pick up a pair of butterfly close focus binoculars and a good butterfly field guide and you are good to go.

The great conservationist John Muir once wrote,  “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” It could not be truer when it comes to our butterflies.

Healthy habitat for butterflies also means a healthy vital habitat for  birds, pollinators , reptiles and yes humans too . Please join us on Saturday July 29 for our Annual Butterfly Day at DeKorte Park. It’s a day for the whole family as we celebrate of the return of our butterflies to the Meadowlands. And don’t forget moth night on Thursday, July 27, a celebration of these amazing, lesser-known cousins of butterflies.

To read more and register for these free events, click here.







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