The White House has for six years planted a garden on the South Lawn, first planted in 2009 to promote a nationwide conversation about healthy eating. This year marks the inauguration of an addition to the garden that we hope will spur a conversation about bees, butterflies, and other vital yet imperiled species: a pollinator garden.
[pullquote]Nearly two-thirds of the foods we often consume are pollinated by bees, so we rely on bees for much of our food. — The White House Blog[/pullquote]
The White House has kept bees for several years but this is the first year that they have included plants designed to attract native pollinators. The garden includes 2 species of milkweed, a plant necessary to the survival of monarch butterflies. Monarchs are in rapid decline, plunging to their lowest winter population level since record-keeping began in the 1990s.
Monarchs are facing multiple threats including climate change and substantial habitat loss both in this country and in Mexico. But, the largest known reason for the decline is the loss of milkweed. The decline in the overwintering population of monarchs has been tied to the use of the herbicide Round Up and the associated increased planting of genetically modified corn and soybeans. The larvae of monarch butterflies eat only milkweed, so it is vital to their survival.
Monarchs migrate annually from the U.S. and Canada into Southern California and Mexico and rely on overwintering and stopover sites along the way. The current threat is serious enough that President Obama and the leaders of Mexico and Canada met in February and pledged to seek solutions to preserve their migration.
In response to these threats, the IUCN has designated the monarch migration an endangered biological phenomenon. The Mexican government has helped to protect monarchs by creating the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in the late 1980s. It now includes 217 square miles of forests in the Sierra Madres where monarchs overwinter.
Endangered Species Coalition member group NRDC has worked with the group Monarch Watch to increase the planting of milkweed by helping to provide what they call “monarch waystations” along the monarch’s migration route.
You can help by asking the EPA to ban pesticides that are killing pollinators. You can also take a cue from the White House and plant milkweed!
You can watch First Lady Michelle Obama speak about the importance of the new pollinator garden here: