Catherine Werner

By Catherine L. Werner, JD, LEED AP Sustainability Director, City of St. Louis



On Earth Day, April 22, 2014, City of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay launched a new initiative to foster the connection between people and nature.  Milkweeds for Monarchs: The St. Louis Butterfly Project is an initiative designed to advance the Mayor’s Sustainability Action Agenda by increasing the chance of experiencing monarch butterflies where people live, work and play in the urban core.

For 2014, Mayor Slay has committed to planting 50 monarch gardens in public areas, such as at City parks, fire stations and City Hall.  He has challenged residents, businesses and community groups to plant another 200 monarch gardens in private or public spaces.  Together we can create 250 monarch gardens to celebrate the City’s 250th birthday, but we need the help of individuals and community groups to reach our goal.

Why worry about butterflies and their habitat?  Monarchs are unique in that they are the only butterfly species to migrate between Canada, the US and Mexico each year. Monarchs are dependent on one very special kind of plant: the milkweed. Without milkweeds, monarchs have no place to lay their eggs or food to feed their caterpillar larvae.  Monarchs also need nectar plants to help sustain them on their migration journey. So, the Milkweeds for Monarchs gardens will provide critically important habitat for the monarchs, whose population has plummeted across the continent.  Equally as important for the City of St. Louis, monarch gardens will create opportunities for community growth and enhance people’s well-being. 

Nature is a vital component of our City. Trees, parks and greenery help create a sense of place. Having access to nature often reduces stress and can improve mental clarity. Additionally, studies have shown many health benefits associated with nature.  For example, one study showed that hospitalized surgery patients with a natural view from their window stayed in the hospital for less time post-surgery, took fewer pain medications, and experienced fewer post-surgical complications when compared with similar surgery patients with different window views.  Another study found that being in nature for certain periods of time worked just as well, if not better, than medication for children with ADHD.  For more information on the health and well-being benefits of nature, check out the Biophilic Cities website.

In public spaces, the monarch gardens may serve as a living medium for community growth.  When a community plants a garden in a place that is accessible to all, it creates opportunity for people to accomplish something together for their neighborhood.  Once the garden is planted, people can continue to use it as a vehicle for community engagement by maintaining it as a group, holding events, and educating each other about the wildlife it brings.  It can also bring pride to a neighborhood as something that was accomplished communally and adds beauty to the neighborhood.

The City of St. Louis is working with several regional partners to advance the Milkweeds for Monarchs initiative. There are several resources on the City’s website to assist in the creation and care of monarch gardens, including the recommended STL Monarch Mix of plants, a list of local nurseries where plants can be sourced, instructions on how to plant a garden, and tips on plant care. Additionally, the City has partnered with Brightside St. Louis and their Neighbors Naturescaping grant program to offer materials for a 24-square-foot monarch garden in a public space to one neighborhood group in each of the City’s 28 wards. Interested organizations are encouraged to contact theirNeighborhood Stabilization Officer for more information on how to take advantage of this opportunity.  Groups may also apply to theNeighbors Naturescaping grant program directly; please note the August 15th grant deadline.

All it takes is one square meter and nine special plants.  For an investment of less than $50 and a couple hours of work, you can help people, plants and pollinators. We hope you will create a monarch garden and register it here to be added to the City’s Milkweeds for Monarchs map. Please help us by planting monarch gardens and spreading the word about Milkweeds for Monarchs.  Help us beautify our City, bring nature back to people, support the monarch population, and bring people together.