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A Former First Lady’s Dedication to Butterflies

Butterflies are not only beautiful winged creatures, they’re pollinators that play an essential role in maintaining plant diversity. 

Although, you may be spotting fewer butterflies in your flower gardens. More than 450 butterfly species have declined at an average rate of nearly 2% a year over the past four decades, according to a study published by the journal Science.

Just this past month, the migratory monarch butterfly was declared an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). According to the IUCN, the population of this species has shrunk by around 22% to 72% over the past decade.  Logging and deforestation to make space for urban construction have left monarchs and other butterfly species with less habitat.

But there may be a glimmer of hope for these brightly colored insects. The news of declining butterfly populations has garnered the attention of many people, including former first lady Rosalynn Carter.

Growing up with a fascination for butterflies, Rosalynn established the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail in southwest Georgia with her longtime friend Annabeth Wise in 2013. 

Wise and Carter established a garden featuring milkweed, the main source of nutrition for monarch caterpillars near the home she shares with former president Jimmy Carter. The garden is open to visitors and inspired the creation of the butterfly trail, a map of 76 public and private gardens that host butterflies around Plains, Georgia. 

This summer, Rosalynn continued her dedication to butterfly conservation efforts. As part of Rosalynn’s 95th birthday on August 18, the butterfly trail began promoting the Great Georgia Pollinator Census, an annual statewide count of butterfly species.

Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter also recently made one of their first public outings in a long time to visit the Rosalynn Smith Carter Childhood Garden for the unveiling of a new monarch butterfly sculpture. The sculpture is a new centerpiece for the gardens that are being designed as an educational experience for students. 

Former President Jimmy Carter and former first lady Rosalynn Carter. Image: Library of Congress

A large factor in the decline of monarch populations is the use of herbicides in the U.S., which is killing milkweed plants. Milkweed is the sole food source and host for monarch caterpillars and food for other moth and butterfly species. Planting milkweed near your home will give monarch butterflies more places to lay their eggs and caterpillars more room to grow.

Once butterflies reach maturity, they rely on flower nectar as their main source of nutrients. Planting flowers rich in nectar to attract butterflies will provide them with a comfy stay during their migration.

Rosalynn Carter and the butterfly trail in Georgia are inspiring other families to plant their own butterfly gardens, to make the earth a more welcoming place for these beautiful creatures.

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