Image from Monarch Watch.
This column originally ran Sunday April 20, 2014.
This past week marked the 50th anniversary of the death of naturalist Rachel Carson, author of the landmark 1962 book, Silent Spring in which she spoke out about the increased used of chemical pesticide and warned the public about the longterm effects DDT on the soil, the waters, and human health. Linked to breast cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and a host of complications, the chemical was eventually banned for agricultural use thanks to Caron’s (and many others’) hard work. Her dedicated action help to launch the environmental movement and educate everyday Americans about the invisible chemicals causing illness in alarming rates. She was also the author of lesser known books like The Sense of Wonder, a publication reminding parents of the need to nurture their children’s innate wonder of the natural world.
DDT may no longer be in use, but other forms pesticides most certainly are. And while they are often marketed as safe, there are many who argue otherwise, claiming these poisonous chemicals used on plants and in households are at least a partial cause behind everything from human illness to the drastic decrease in plant pollinators such as butterflies and bees. Monarch butterflies are especially decreasing in number, a fact that is confusing and alarming to those who study them. On this fiftieth anniversary of Carson’s death, faith groups and naturalists from around the nation came together to engage in a day of action, encouraging citizens to plant more of the native plant species that help Monarch butterflies thrive, especially the milkweed plant, a wildflower that serves as a natural breeding ground for the species.
To my knowledge there are currently no organized initiatives in Arkansas surrounding this national push to help bring back the Monarchs (please correct me if I’m wrong!). But there’s no need to wait for an organized event to begin planting milkweeds and nectar flowers around your home. While it’s true that butterflies love all manner of cultivated flowers, they need certain types of wildflowers for their breeding grounds. So to keep these populations coming back each year, individual property owners, business owners, and city officials can take steps to make sure there are plenty of milkweeds around their property. It can be hard to find these plants in commercial nurseries, but seeds are easy to buy and they grow naturally throughout the state. You can also order them from native plant nurseries such as Pine Ridge Gardens located in London (479-293-4359).
Rachel Carson. Image from Biography.com
I have compiled a list of resources about milkweeds online and links to other readings related to the Monarch Watch which you can find online at this column’s webpage listed below. You can also visit www.Monarchwatch.org to learn more about the issues. What are you doing to help support monarchs? Do you plant milkweed plants around your home? Feeding butterflies may not seem like a big deal, but if we lose pollinators we lose our crops. And that’s huge. The McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources and Community Action would love to hear what you’re up to and learn how we can support you in these efforts.
In closing, I’d like to let readers know that this column will now begin running every two weeks rather than every week. My husband and I are expecting our third child in late May and I will be cutting back on my writing for a few months to spend time with our new daughter and our two growing sons. We also have some new developments happening at the McElroy House, including a community partnership with the long-standing organization ARVAC, which we are so excited about! Myself and the rest of the McElroy House group are looking forward to moving into a new stage of our work which will include more time spent out in the community and a little less time at the keyboard. Stay tuned for more details on this.
As always, I look forward to hearing your stories about life and history in Yell and Pope Counties. I learn so much from readers and am always so honored to receive your letters and emails which teach me so much. So please keep them coming! Also, don’t forget that May is coming up, which is the month of Decoration Days. Will you be taking part in Decoration Days this year?
Migration of the Monarch Butterfly
Free Milkweed Seeds
Books by Rachel Carson
Pine Ridge Arkansas Native Plant Nursery
The Seed and the Story is a partnership with the Courier newspaper in Pope and Yell County, Arkansas. This weekly column explores folklife, oral history, and community in central Arkansas, particularly the Yell County area where the column originates. Columns are often written in partnership with the McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources and Community Action and humbly attempt to bridge intergenerational themes in the region.