Butterfly Hero: One Girl’s Passion Helps Pollinators Soar

Genevieve Leroux has turned her garden—and her California community—into a wildlife haven

  • Lisa Moore
  • Gardening
  • Apr 01, 2018

“Butterfly whisperer” Genevieve Leroux greets a monarch butterfly in the pollinator garden she planted in her California backyard. Colorful milkweed, salvia, coneflower and other native blooms attract monarchs, bees, birds and other wildlife. “It just looks alive and thriving,” says Genevieve, who even sows native milkweed seeds (below) to give to friends and neighbors.

“BUTTERFLIES LOVE BRIGHT COLORS, so I always wear bright colors,” says 12-year-old Genevieve Leroux, a girl with a knack for tending butterflies in her backyard—and for nurturing bold future dreams.

Three years ago, Genevieve read about the National Wildlife Federation’s Butterfly Heroes™ program in Ranger Rick® magazine. Thinking it was “pretty cool,” she took the Butterfly Heroes pledge so she could receive a packet of milkweed seeds, which she used to start a butterfly garden in her family’s yard in San Luis Obispo, California. “I’ve always liked butterflies, so when I read they were in trouble, I wanted to do something to help,” she says. That urge has morphed into a citywide movement.

Seeds of change

Genevieve Leroux planting milkweed seeds in winter

With support from her parents, Genevieve has transformed their yard into a three-tiered haven of native milkweed, salvia, coneflower and other blooms that provide pollen and nectar for butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and many other species. “There’s a rainbow of colors,” says Genevieve. “Purple, pink, blue, orange, yellow—it just looks alive and thriving.”

That influx of life has lured loads of butterflies and also bigger players to the fluttering feast. “We’ve seen a huge increase in lizards, snakes, hawks, owls and other predatory birds,” says Genevieve, “and all because of our little garden.”

Eager to make an impact beyond her own backyard, and inspired by a meeting with Jane Goodall, Genevieve also started a service project called Milkweed for Monarchs in 2015. Working with a local nursery and seed farm, she began cultivating native milkweed (the only food monarch larvae eat) and giving seedlings to friends and family. This aspiring wildlife biologist also began working with Cal Poly researchers to tag monarchs in her backyard and test them for a parasite known as OE. To date, she’s tagged more than 75 monarchs.

Why stop there? In 2017, Genevieve wrote to the mayor of San Luis Obispo suggesting she take the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge. (She did.) “I told her about how the butterflies are in trouble,” says Genevieve. “Now our entire community is getting involved. We’re going to plant demonstration gardens and do more to help monarchs in the city. Because of all the land being developed, we have to grow gardens to offset all the natural habitat being destroyed.”

With eyes on the future, Genevieve takes the long view. “Kids have a really powerful voice, and they can make a difference,” she says. “Our actions will give tomorrow’s generation a world they can protect.” With kids like Genevieve out there, the future seems bright indeed.

Lisa Moore is the Editorial Director.

More from National Wildlife magazine and the National Wildlife Federation:

Five Butterfly Garden Tips from a Butterfly Hero! »
Worth Their Weight in Gold »
Battle for Butterflies »
Disney's Bold Push to Save Wildlife—and Inspire Kids »
Find Native Plants for Pollinators »

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