“I knew about the monarch, but thought that was special,” said Lesle-Ann Hine of the relationship between the monarch butterfly and milkweed. In reality, the orange and black insect is special – a “specialist,” to be precise – but, as Hine discovered, it is not unique in that regard. For the endangered monarchs, milkweed is imperative because it is the only plant upon which their caterpillars feed; but many other insects have specialist relationships with vegetation, feeding on and pollinating a limited variety of plant life and sometimes just a single species. As native plants diminish due to factors such as invasive species and habitat loss, the insects that feed on them are increasingly in jeopardy, as are the birds and other creatures that eat those insects.
Ormstown Butterflyway takes flight
“I’ve been an environmentalist and a gardener for thirty years, but no one told me about the connections,” said Hine. She learned about ecological relationships while watching YouTube during the pandemic. That’s when she discovered the Butterflyway Project, an initiative of the David Suzuki Foundation that encourages volunteers, known as Butterflyway Rangers, to develop a network of twelve or more native plant gardens in their community. Hine was inspired. “This felt like just so much hope for me, like I can be the change, starting at home.”
In 2022, along with friend and fellow Ranger Kathryn McCully, Hine launched the Ormstown Butterflyway. After helping to establish twelve pollinator patches last summer, the pair then collected native plant seeds which they started indoors in December, looking forward to expanding their reach further. After driving to Ottawa this spring to purchase additional seedlings that she couldn’t source locally, Hine believes that there is a business opportunity for a local nursery to focus on producing native plants.
“It was a lot of work, watering 800 plants. There were times they had to be watered three times a day,” explained Hine, who is hoping to recruit “seed sitters” to help next year by caring for flats of plants until they are ready for distribution.
The Earth Day Forum held in Ormstown in April provided a knowledge-gathering opportunity for visitors interested in helping pollinators. Valérie Taillefer assisted at the Butterflyway booth; Taillefer, who joined the team earlier this year after a conversation with Hine, said, “I learned a lot. I discovered it’s easy to make a difference, to rediscover native plants.”
This spring, Taillefer visited area garden centers Jardins Ellice and Domaine du Paysan to share the Pollinator Partnerships Canada list of plants that attract pollinators in the St. Lawrence lowlands. She says both centers are considering increasing their selection and collaborating with Rangers to install signage identifying native plants and their benefits to our local ecosystem.
New locations on the Butterflyway include Ormstown Elementary School, where teachers Anne Marie McCaffrey and Yvonne Lewis Langlois have consistently woven environmental themes into the curriculum. In early June, Cycle 3 students weeded existing gardens and then dug two small beds for some native plants provided by Hine. “[The students] love being outside. They love getting their hands dirty. They were so engaged,” said McCaffrey.
After the forum and some Facebook promotion, more than 60 people came to collect native plants from Hine. Seedlings were given to local residents and sold to a few gardeners outside Ormstown. Hine happily noted that local people didn’t come just because the plants were free: “A lot of people came with questions, and they genuinely want to improve native habitat in their yards.” This included an older couple who weren’t even gardeners but said, “We need to do something for the butterflies.”
Both Hine and Taillefer hope that Ormstown becomes a model in the Haut-Saint-Laurent, inspiring people and other municipalities to create Butterflyways across the Valley. In the meantime, the Rangers are looking forward to making presentations to various community groups this fall.
Pollinator Week is coming up from June 19 to 25 – a perfect opportunity for people to educate themselves further. Following Pollinator Partnership Canada and the Ormstown Butterflyway Project/L’Effet Papillon on Facebook is a good place to start.