Carlsbad, CA — My name is Xenia Mateiu, and I am the owner of a small crystals & gemstones gifts shop in Carlsbad, the Village Rock Shop, where we are also growing butterflies. Everything started when as we were struggling during Covid, we employed a gardener to improve our outdoor space and make our store more noticeable. During this time, our landscape enhanced along with our knowledge about plants that attract butterflies; we learned so much from our gardener, Chris Bany.
One of the plants that butterflies are drawn to is milkweed, and we included it in our landscape. The butterfly larvae eat the plants’ leaves, and then they try to find a safe place to create their chrysalis and start their transformation process. As the plants were close to our store entrance, a couple of larvae made their way inside and formed the chrysalis in our shop. This was a wonderful experience; while the world was shut down due to the pandemic, I would come in the store to work on our website, package, and ship products, and now I had a fascinating event to watch unfold over the course of a couple of weeks. I had never seen a chrysalis form or knew anything about this process, so it was a truly unique experience for me.
The Beneficial Effect Butterflies Have on the Environment
You may not know it, as neither did I, but butterflies are beneficial to the natural environment, and their presence or absence can also tell you a lot about the state of your local environment. As I found this process so fascinating, I wanted to learn more about butterflies and their role, so I did some research, and this is what I’ve found:
- Butterflies help with plant pollination.
Butterflies feed with nectar from blossoms on flowering plants, and just like bees, they pick up pollen while they sip a flower’s nectar. As they move from plant to plant, they take the pollen with them, helping to pollinate the plant species. They’re essential for us too as about one-third of the food people consume depends on the work of pollinators such as butterflies.
- They keep certain organisms in check.
When in larvae or caterpillar stage, butterflies consume the leaves of their host plants. As a result, they can help keep certain plant species from spreading out of control. Butterflies are also particular to the species of plant they feed on; for example, the monarch caterpillar feeds only on milkweed.
Butterflies don’t usually eat other animals, but the harvester butterfly is an exception and feeds on aphids, which are harmful predators to plants. So if you have an aphid infestation in your garden, attracting butterflies can help you fix it.
Other butterfly species eat rotting fruits, carrion, or animal excrements and help rid the environment of waste.
- They act as an ecosystem barometer.
The presence and the behavior butterflies have in an environment can be used by scientists to determine an ecosystem’s health.
For example, butterflies in their adult or larvae form are sensitive to pesticides, so if they are absent from an environment, it can be an indication that the area may be polluted with pesticides. This is possible even if there is no agricultural field nearby as most pesticides can become airborne and travel with the wind.
Ecologists usually study butterfly behavior, their numbers, and migration patterns to help determine the impact of various environmental issues affecting an ecosystem.
How Butterflies Can Help You Feel Better
Besides being beneficial to the environment, butterflies also have a positive impact on us humans. Staying and admiring the beautiful butterflies is beneficial to one’s mental health. It calms and relaxes your mind, helps you release built-up stress, and unwind.
The metamorphosis process is astounding. Before witnessing it myself, I would have never imagined this would bring so much interest and fascination from our customers. No matter what stage our butterflies are in, they love coming into the shop to watch them and always leave with smiles on their faces. Especially if the butterflies are in their chrysalis stage, people are most fascinated.
When the butterflies come out, they spend an entire day in the shop strengthening their wings. It is an incredibly special day for people. This is when people come in to see them up close, or if new customers notice them, they are surprised that they’re real. Kids love asking questions about them, and when they return, they always check our plant to see if we have any more.
How Can We Help Protect Butterflies
If you are fond of butterflies and wonder what you can do to help protect them, here are a few simple things you can try:
- You can help by providing them with a suitable habitat.
Each butterfly species’ caterpillars will only consume one type of plant. You can attract them and encourage them to lay eggs in your garden by planting plants they feed on, such as grasses, sedges, bushes, or mistletoe.
- Minimize chemical use in your garden.
It would be best to keep your pesticide use to a minimum as they are lethal to all insects, including caterpillars. You can opt for natural alternatives, either bought or homemade, to combat pests in your garden.
- Include a variety of nectar-producing plants in your garden.
To ensure there is butterfly-friendly food throughout the year, try planting some of these nectar-producing plants: verbena, daisies, banksia, lavender, bottlebrushes, wattles, tea trees, citrus, snapdragons, crepe myrtle.
This whole event has been unique. The butterflies have been such a great inspiration to our customers and us, and we are so grateful for this experience and for having the opportunity to show our love and appreciation towards the natural world and provide a little haven for these magnificent creatures.
About the author: Xenia Mateiu is the founder and owner of the Village Rock Shop in Carlsbad. A local gifts shop selling crystals, gemstones, jewelry, incense, custom gift boxes, and others.