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  • Jennifer Jewell


Monarch nectaring at Showy Milkweed. Photo by John Whittlesey, all rights reserved.


In 2018, scientists reported dramatic losses in populations of one of North America’s most charismatic insects, the Monarch butterfly, with an estimated 14.8 percent decline of Eastern Monarchs and a precipitous 86% percent 1-year decline in Western Monarchs.

This week we learn more about the situation with monarch researcher Dr. Anurag Agrawal, James A. Perkins Professor of Environmental Studies in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and also professor in the Department of Entomology at Cornell University. He joins us from the Cornell Broadcast Studios.

Dr. Agrawal's research at Cornell is specifically focused on the ancient relationship between Monarch Butterflies and Milkweed Plants. His book titled: Monarchs and Milkweed A Migrating Butterfly, a Poisonous Plant, and their remarkable story of Co-Evolution (Princeton University Press, 2017), makes the relationship between these two charismatic north American species clear, dispelling some misunderstandings and reiterating actions we as home gardeners can take to help

Follow along with Dr. Agrawal's work at Cornell here: or at Princeton University Press.

Join us again next week as the conversations continue in this 5 part series on the many ways people cultivate their places in order to provide healthy habitat for all manner of life, when we’re joined by Christine Nye, Horticultural Manager at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, IL. Christine oversees the landscapes both inside and outside the aquarium, working to make them better contributors to habitat at all stages in the life cycles of wildlife resident to the area and those migrating through.




I was really stretched by reading Dr. Agrawal’s book – by his straight forward presenting of his research findings and what they do and don’t mean to him and his own actions in support of biodiversity. The putting together of this 5 part series on our gardens as habitat has stretched me as a whole and it’s been an honor to put it together. I hope you’re enjoying it two episodes in, being able to think ahead and plan and curate such a series is directly correlated to listener feedback and support – so thank you!

Every one of you who signed up as monthly $10 donors in support of Cultivating Place and who reached out about how much you loved your first Monthly Garden Life Love Letter mean a great deal to me. The voice of Robin Kimmerer in your first audio bonus – her knowledge and wisdom and deep warmth was an honor to share with you. For those of you who might be still interested in receiving this monthly bonus audio as sustaining donors of just $10 a month - you still have through March 31st to be part.

I’m already having fun putting together your next GardenLifeLoveLetter headed your way on April 15th. Maybe it will help soften any sting of tax day? All of us on the CP team are so grateful for your generosity and hope you take great pride in the important difference that your sustaining donations make.

In addition to donating, there are of course lots of ways to support this program you love, listen to and learn from – the first being share it forward! We’d love it if you told a friend about the show. Tell your best friend, your gardening group, your neighbor with amazing window boxes, the people who work down at the nursery. Share this experience with them! Help them subscribe to the show on their phones, or introduce them our Cultivating Place instagram community. That's @ cultivating underscore place. Along with sunlight, regular watering, and some care and attention, word of the mouth is the best way for podcasts to grow

last week I quoted a figure regarding pesticide, insecticide and herbicides use in the US at 3.5 lbs per household. Phyl Stiles of the Xerces Society and founder of Bee City USA wrote to correct me – letting me know that according to Dr. Mark Winston of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia

"Americans average using 3.5 pounds of pesticides per capita each year." So that would be per person. Ugh. We have so much room for improvement, don’t we.

I think my biggest take away from reading Dr. Agrawal’s book, and then speaking with him is this: there is a combination of forces working against the monarchs and biodiversity in general, and so we in turn as informed and caring humans and gardeners need to take the multiprong approach that Dr. Agrawal suggests in order to help make a difference – we need to plant more native milkweeds of our area, we need to plant more nectar and pollen and nesting plants in our gardens in general, as Dr. Dave Goulson of the Bumblebee Conservancy out of the UK recommended to us in his interview with us last year – we need to plant A LOT OF FLOWERS – flowers that bloom throughout the year – the more of them that are native or near native, the better. We need to have clean healthy soil and clean fresh water available for the visiting bees, butterflies, birds, frogs, lizards and snakes we want to feel welcome. And we need to level up at policy levels – as Dr. Agrawal suggested research and then support the local and national individuals, agencies and organizations doing the best and most effective work for our plant and animal companions whose lives sustain ours. By way of example, I’m a supporter of the Xerces Society, of the California Native Plant Society, and of my own local Butte Environmental Council.

And as we’re in a long stretch of political debate and decision making – look into what each candidate knows, says and DOES on these fronts. Ask them these questions. We vote with every dollar we spend – and every dollar we don’t spend.

There are good and smart people at work on these issues with us – if there are organizations or individuals you particularly respect at this work in the world – PLEASE put their names and links to their websites in the comments on the weekly CP post on Instagram or Facebook.

We nature loving Gardeners are LEGION and together we make a difference – thank you for being here.




Thank you to everyone who has contributed this year! We simply could not produce this program without your help.

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