project swallowtail

Toronto neighbourhoods come together to create a huge butterfly habitat

More than 300 community members in Toronto are coming together to increase habitat for butterflies by planting trees, shrubs and other native plants that host the caterpillars of swallowtail butterflies. 

The initiative, called Project Swallowtail, aims to connect communities while encouraging a collaborative effort to help restore nature in the city.

"Through this neighbourhood network, residents are joining forces to enhance pollinator habitat on their balconies and decks, in their gardens and local parks," said Ryan Godfrey of World Wildlife Fund Canada.

"In doing so, they are also taking action on two of the most pressing issues we face: climate change and biodiversity loss."

The ultimate goal of the project is to create a huge habitat patch that will also incorporate High Park and the lakeshore by adding caterpillar host plants to backyards and parks, while also educating fellow community members on pollinator-friendly garden maintenance.

The idea is that having "connected greenspaces" filled with all kinds of different native plants will allow the swallowtail butterflies to properly move through all stages of their lifecycle while helping butterfly populations to thrive.

There are a total of eight different swallowtail species in Ontario, seven of which can be found in Toronto. Some are fairly recognizable and easy to spot, such as the eastern tiger and black swallowtails, while others, such as the zebra swallowtail, are rarely seen at all. 

Different species rely on a number of specific native plants to lay their eggs, also known as "larval host plants," making the maintenance of these plants all the more important for their survival.

Project Swallowtail partnered with Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests (LEAF), a Toronto-based organization, for this initiative, and it's also supported by groups including Pollinator Partnership Canada, WWF-Canada, Parkdale and Toronto Horticultural Societies, David Suzuki Foundation, High Park Stewards, the City of Toronto and North American Native Plant Society.

"Project Swallowtail is an invitation to connect with nature, as well as with people in your neighbourhood," said Kathleen Law from Pollinator Partnership Canada.

"We were able to create a rich community space, even though we were meeting on Zoom for the first time because of the pandemic. Everyone is enthusiastic about planting native plants and seeing butterflies, but just as rewarding is the feeling that we are working together to help nature."

Anyone interested in purchasing a host tree or shrub at a discounted rate can do so through LEAF Backyard Tree Planting Program, the Do-It-Yourself Tree Planting Program, or by purchasing either individual or bundles of native shrubs for delivery.

"Native trees and shrubs provide excellent habitat, with some species offering up hundreds of flowers to pollinators on just one plant," said Janet McKay, executive director of LEAF. 

"We are thrilled to collaborate with Project Swallowtail in their important efforts to help residents return native plants to the urban landscape."

Lead photo by

Wikimedia Commons

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