LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Efforts to protect and save monarch butterflies continue in the city of Lakeland as the beloved species finds its way onto the The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) endangered species list.

The species is “threatened by habitat destruction and climate change,” according to the IUCN. The western population of monarch butterflies has declined by an estimated 99.9% between the 1980s and 2021, while the eastern population has dropped by 84% from 1996 – 2014, according to the organization.

The Common Ground park in Lakeland hides within it a way to help save the monarchs.

“Our little secret is that it’s also home to one of our largest butterfly gardens,” said Beth Sherling, program coordinator for the Lakeland Parks & Recreation department.

Common Ground hosts milkweed plants, a firecracker plant and bottlebrush trees, among other pollinator-friendly plants.

“Some people want to know exactly where the butterfly garden is and the truth is – and this is really where home gardeners can get excited – it doesn’t have to be one spot,” said Sherling.

The city of Lakeland has maintained several butterfly gardens for years. It is currently adding two more at the Coleman Bush building and McGee Park.

In May, two months before the endangered species announcement, the city made the “Mayor’s Monarch Pledge Day” proclamation vowing to play a leadership role to “help save the monarch butterfly.” It encourages residents to build more pollinator habitats and plant milkweed.

“If you just have a pot on, like, a back porch or something, anything we can do,” said Sherling.

The IUCN wrote that, “pesticides and herbicides used in intensive agriculture across the range kill butterflies and milkweed, the host plant that the larvae of the monarch butterfly feed on.”

Fifth grade science teacher Susan Wools, who posts about butterflies on her YouTube channel, has turned her backyard into an elaborate butterfly ecosystem. She even cares for monarch caterpillars and chrysalis, which they form to transition into a butterfly.

“Milkweed is the host plant to the monarch butterfly and they lay their eggs on the milkweed and when the eggs hatch, the caterpillars eat the milkweed and that’s the only food they can eat to thrive and survive,” she said.

Wools urges people to make sure the milkweed they buy is native milkweed, not tropical milkweed. And once you do, Wools said, they are easy to take care of.

“Because it’s native it knows what to do, it knows how to live in that area. You don’t have to do anything. Just make sure you water it to get it established,” she said.

Email parks@lakelandgov.net to be added to a list to receive free milkweed plants. Parks and recreation staff also distribute the plants at various events around the city.