Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: The Monarch Butterfly Still Needs Our Help!

All photos by Don Torino

Sometimes important environmental issues seem to go by the wayside, usually because there are just so many critical problems we need to deal with on a daily basis. But some very important ones get forgotten and set aside for another day or time. We do what we think we can and then move on to the next issue and concern, not looking back and hoping that our mission is complete.

But the Monarch butterfly, strong, undaunted and fearless, is still extremely vulnerable and on the brink of being lost forever.

As we speak, the Monarch Butterfly is enduring its perilous and miraculous journey north. Sadly the Monarch butterfly numbers have dropped to a 20 year low and any long term turnaround is not yet in sight.

Swamp Milkweed

Although there are multiple reasons why this magnificent butterfly is threatened and being considered for the endangered species list, for the most part there are two main reasons why the Monarch is in deep trouble. First is the lack of Milkweed, the only plant that Monarch caterpillars can consume. No milkweed, no Monarchs. It’s that simple and also that frightening.

Common Milkweed

Milkweed is cut, mowed and sprayed every year by groundskeepers, landscapers and homeowners, a bad habit we all need to change. And the latest studies also point to the lack of the available wildflower habitat which has been destroyed and fragmented. So even if our Monarchs are lucky enough to find Milkweed they will not survive their journey south if the habitat and nectar sources no longer exist.

But there is still reason for hope. Over the last couple of years good people who care are joining together and as a result  many positive things are happening to help the Monarch.

Government agencies and local community groups have been learning to preserve and protect the milkweed that already exists and getting more milkweed and native wildflowers  into our  environment, like we have helped accomplish along with the NJSEA at DeKorte Park.

More schools, libraries, town halls, local businesses  and whereever there is an extra plot of soil butterfly plants are being planted and protected.  Many nature centers, county and State parks have aso partnered with Bergen County Audubon Society to bring thousands of new milkweed plants  to places where it had disappeared.

But we cannot lose our focus now. There is still much more for us to do, especially in our own backyards. This Spring dig under some of that useless lawn, remove some non-natives and put aside some room in your flower beds for milkweed and native wildflower nectar sources. Many local garden centers now carry multiple species of milkweed which will work in the backyard, and some better garden centers are now even setting aside spaces for native wildflowers like Milkweeds, Goldenrod, Joe-pye weed and NY Ironweed to name a few.


Unlike many environmental issues which at times can seem overwhelming this is an issue we can do something about. We don’t need to write to our Congressman or the Governor and hope that something gets done. Just plant some milkweed and other native wildflowers that provide nectar and you just made our environment a better place.

Together we can turn our local communities into environments that are welcoming to the Monarch butterfly and that will give a fighting chance to a creature that can sure use our help.

If you have any questions on milkweed or other native plants feel free to contact me at

Just a reminder: Mark your calendars for Sunday, July 29th  It’s Butterfly Day at DeKorte Park where you can learn more about the Monarch and all the butterflies that call our area home.

For a list of native plants go to

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