Grow a Butterfly Bio-Diverse Garden & Change the World

I celebrated my 38th birthday on Sunday with a host plant sale and lepidopterology party.  I know –38, practically mid-life.  Time to tone down the wild/party girl craziness!

My friend, knowing of my personal blog titled “The Butterfly Effect,” invited me to the Machine Project’s event, Los Angeles: City Of Butterflies — Host Plant Sale & Lepidopterology Party. We stepped inside the small storefront, recently transformed into a serene garden shop from the Machine Project’s odd and oft-disturbing 99-cent store (artfully altered boxes of hair dye or cleaning solutions featuring crazy clowns or vampire-eyes).  A bright, colorful butterfly chart greeted us, as did Ann Hadlock, the host and believer in all things butterfly, bio-diverse and eco-earth-saving, and larval. Ann introduced us to plants we could buy to create our own butterfly-corner in our gardens, describing how each one is a host to a different species.

I felt like a little girl on a field trip, learning how butterflies have sensors in their feet that they use to “taste” the plant and know whether it’s the right one on which to lay eggs, so the caterpillar will have food to munch and grow, cocoon, and become another beautiful butterfly.  I bought a small Deerweed (Acmispon glaber), on sale from The Theodore Payne Foundation, co-host of the City of Butterflies event. It will live in a container on my front stoop, soaking in the full sun it needs to slowly grow into a host for the Bramble Hairstreak, Avalon Hairstreak, Acmon Blue and Silvery Blue butterflies.

Why butterflies for my birthday outing?

Madeleine L’engle introduced me to the chaos theory and concept of “The Butterfly Effect” in her book, A Stone for a Pillow: “If a butterfly winging over the fields around Crosswicks should be hurt, the effect would be felt in galaxies thousands of light years away. The interrelationship of all Creation is sensitive in a way we are just beginning to understand. If a butterfly is hurt, we are hurt. If the bell tolls, it tolls for us.”

As the Fractal Foundation notes about the Chaos Theory: “This effect grants the power to cause a hurricane in China to a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico. It may take a very long time, but the connection is real. If the butterfly had not flapped its wings at just the right point in space/time, the hurricane would not have happened. A more rigorous way to express this is that small changes in the initial conditions lead to drastic changes in the results.” –

I love the connectedness the butterfly effect reminds me of – that even a small action on my part may make a wildly important change in the world. Offering a hand to someone who needs it, a meal to someone who is hungry, directions to a befuddled tourist, or planting a packet of seeds so that the butterflies don’t die off.

And that is Ann Hadlock’s goal, to grow more space for butterflies to flourish, so they can nourish the balance of our ecosystem. Working with Alan Sonfist, an environmental artist who is the creative mind behind an indigenous forest in NYC: “Time Landscapes,” in Greenwich Village, Ann was inspired to ask the question: What can people do to create biodiversity locally?

“Butterflies are the perfect ambassador,” she told us. “Everybody loves them.”

Ann is in the middle of making a documentary to introduce more people to the world of her bio-ambassadors.  She is also advocating to turn a 90-acre landfill in L.A.’s Griffith Park into a pollinator and native plant sanctuary.

Growing up in Oregon, we spent at least one week at a family camp on the northern coast of Oregon – a place of mildewing cabins, lines of campers and tents, a small lake that seemed huge and teeming with potential dangers and discoveries, and the cold coastline, where one only dips a foot in to feel the freezing water.  A quiet kid who liked to read, I took breaks from my books to bundle in a sweatshirt and walk the beach, to scan the shoreline for shiny agates and smooth shells. One summer surprised me with daily discoveries of butterflies and ladybugs on the wet sand, near the breaking waves. Concerned they wouldn’t survive, I picked them up ever-so-gently, placed them on a paper plate, and returned with them to our small camper, determined that they should be my pets.

I don’t remember how long they lived indoors, but I doubt it was more than a day. I may have blocked the memory of their death, knowing I had a hand in their demise. But now, when I see butterflies, I’m reminded of their fragility as well as their power, and the connectedness and responsibility we have toward each other.

“Recognizing the chaotic, fractal nature of our world can give us new insight, power, and wisdom. For example, by understanding the complex, chaotic dynamics of the atmosphere, a balloon pilot can “steer” a balloon to a desired location. By understanding that our ecosystems, our social systems, and our economic systems are interconnected, we can hope to avoid actions which may end up being detrimental to our long-term well-being.”

Follow Ann Hadlock’s work here, visit the Theodore Payne Foundation to find out about wildflowers and native plants here, and consider planting a butterfly garden in part of your world. You never know what the flutter of a wing will do.