Ann Arbor’s Jon Piechowiak Promotes the Butterfly Effect

“If you build it, they will come,” is Jon Piechowiak’s general motto with regard to saving the monarch butterflies with milkweed.

Or in the alternative, it may be revised to state: “if you plant milkweed, the monarchs will come.”

Piechowiak has lived in Ann Arbor since 1996, and recently retired after 20 years of working at Industrial Tectonic Incorporated of Dexter.

“Some time ago I read an article in National Geographic about the decreasing count of the monarch butterfly population due to loss of habitat and the use of pesticides worldwide,” stated Piechowiak. “The article went on to explain that individuals could help by planting their own milkweed patch, the prime habitat for the monarch caterpillar.”

Piechowiak said that he then searched online to purchase milkweed and found a company that sold milkweed in shippable seedling form. He added that the company also had information about the monarchs’ current plight.

Jon Piechowiak

In the past 20 years, more than 90 percent of the monarch butterflies that migrate from Mexico to Canada have disappeared. Some reasons cited for the decline of the monarch population include overuse of pesticides, climate change, habitats being destroyed, and disease.

Piechowiak explained in relatively easy terms how he planted milkweed.

“I simply purchased six to eight plants of two varieties and planted them, per instructions,  6″ apart,” Piechowiak described. “Year one was a disaster. The plants, seemingly all died by late summer. I resolved to replant in the spring, however, I did not need to. The dead milkweeds literally grew like weeds in the spring and they propagated to perhaps 15 plants that grew so high they needed to be propped up. I can sit on my patio near the small patch of milkweed and just count casually the number of monarchs that were flying about the garden. I counted just five that year.”

Circumstances improved even more. 

“This year, the patch now has around 25 – 30 plants,” he stated. “This year was the first year I was able to see the caterpillars strolling around munching on the leaves.”

Donna’s Butterfly Story

I have always thought butterflies were beautiful in their colors, patterns, and fluttering. Butterflies are referenced in art and literature, such as the Bible and Shakespeare. But butterflies are also good for us.

Butterflies and moths are indicators of a healthy environment and ecosystem. They are an important element of the food chain, supporting other predators and parasites. Butterflies are also widely used by ecologists as model organisms to study the impact of habitat loss and fragmentation and climate change.

In our various gardens at our home in Ann Arbor: easement garden, front yard garden, backyard garden, herb garden, etc. we have happily noticed more butterflies and a greater variety this year.  I believe this may in part have to do with more butterfly- friendly plants as well as more sunshine. Here are more tips on attracting butterflies and bees to your garden:

1.) Stop using pesticides—pesticides are bad for both humans and butterflies. 

2.) Plant native plants—butterflies are attracted to many native species.

3.) Plant milkweed—this is the monarch’s favorite.

4.) Plant lots of color—butterflies are attracted to bold colors.

5.) Enjoy the sun—plant in sun patches because butterflies love the sun.

6.) Enjoy the chaos– chaos allows plants to propagate naturally; not strictly in straight, spaced rows.