Butterfly Gardens Bring Biodiversity to British Columbia’s Urban Areas

It’s finally spring, and spring brings gardens and butterflies.

Suzuki Elders and many other seniors are a driving force behind the creation and renewal of butterfly gardens popping up in many communities all over Canada.

Ambleside Butterfly Garden volunteers

Butterfly gardens are designed to create a habitat for not only butterflies but pollinator insects of many kinds – first of all in the Lower Mainland and on southern Vancouver Island.  

Beginning now to work with the dirt are dozens of David Suzuki Foundation’s volunteer “Butterfly Rangers.” They know that the cities and towns where most of Canada’s population lives need not be biodiversity deserts.

Planting in Connaught Heights, new Westminster

Indeed planting the proper species of flowering plants can serve as a lifeline for bees, various flies, and yes, butterflies. Biodiversity in urban areas is vital, especially since many rural areas are dominated by the industrial farming of huge fields for cereal crops and hay production—and fewer flowers.

The David Suzuki Foundation five years ago began its Butterfly Project to train Rangers, from school children to seniors, how to find urban space and set up a garden, which are the best flowers to plant, and how to tend them.

Municipalities throughout the Lower Mainland are often happy to encourage urban gardens. In West Vancouver, the city made available a plot at Ambleside about a year ago.

Ranger Jane Sherrott organized a group from the seniors’ centre in West Vancouver, and others community members to work on a pollinator garden near the sea walk at Ambleside Park. The garden area takes up only about 40 by 20 feet, but within it have been placed about 200 plants representing 75 species. Many plants were donated.

“You really don’t need that much space to help the environment,” Jane said.

Jane said the group has planted about 70% native plants and the rest other compatible species. While the garden is delightful to visit, plantings are based on what insects and birds need, not decoration.

“I think we have to change our aesthetic,” said Jane. “A really clean garden isn’t necessarily ecological.”

An important part of the effort is to observe what insects and birds use the garden. Observing and logging the insect visitors is an important part of the work. Butterfly Ranger reports help scientists at the University of BC keep track of the state of regional biodiversity.

In New Westminster, Suzuki Elder Bob Petusa organized his Connaught Heights neighbourhood at the far west end of the city, to plant a pollinator garden last year. After much negotiation the municipality and BC Hydro, the group got access to a large area, four building lots owned by the utility.

Suzuki Elder Bob Petrusa organizes volunteers

With the help of a Vancouver Foundation Neighbourhood Grant began work with donated and purchased plants. Once engaged, the municipality pitched in and helped till the area for planting and contributed mulch.

The outdoor activity has been undertaken by a couple of dozen people. As everything happens outdoors, it’s been a safe and welcome activity by Bob’s neighbours during the pandemic.

Other pollinator gardens have sprung up near Riley Park, Trout Lake Park in Vancouver, on Raymur Avenue in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood, plus planted patches in North Vancouver, Richmond, South Surrey, and Burnaby.

Vancouver’s Environmental Youth Alliance (EYA) has been involved in pollinator gardens for years, and lately seniors who love gardening have joined Connaught Heights the movement in numbers.

And do these gardens attract the butterflies? Indeed they do.  Last year the rangers together made over 600 observations and logged some 47 butterfly species in the Vancouver area.

The Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) and the Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) were the most common, but there were many rarer species like the, the Canadian tiger swallowtail Papilio canadensi, a pan Canadian species or the Western Pine Elfin (Callophrys eryphon) found in pine woods.

British Columbia has at least 184 local butterfly species, the most diverse in Canada, but many are endangered and, in cities, need gardens.

Although the Butterflyway Project in BC started in the Lower Mainland and Victoria in 2017. Since 2020 the Project has become a national project and in BC it covers the entire province. We have Rangers from Northern BC as well as the Okanagan.

For more information about butterfly gardens, check the David Suzuki website (https://davidsuzuki.org/take-action/act-locally/butterflyway/). Returning biodiversity to the land is not difficult and a great way to bring about a bit of environmental healing.

Cabbage White|, Western Tiger Swallowtail, Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, Western Pine Elfin

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