The monarch butterfly is one of the most beautiful insects, but sadly the beloved species is at risk: following years of population decline, the monarch butterfly was listed as an endangered species for the first time last month.
But all hope is not lost, and there are ways humans can get involved and help save this beautiful insect before it’s too late — and now, one US icon is using her milestone birthday to raise awareness.
Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, the wife of former President Jimmy Carter, is celebrating her 95th birthday today. She is the oldest living First Lady, and the second-oldest in history.
Since leaving the White House in 1981, Rosalynn has kept busy for decades with humanitarian efforts. Along with her husband, she started The Carter Center and has been a key figure in the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity.
She has also been an advocate for environmental causes — and one of the most important to her is the conservation of the butterfly.
According to AP, the former first lady has had a lifelong fascination with butterflies, going back to her childhood in Plains, Georgia, where she was “entranced” by the colorful butterflies on her mother’s flowers.
Later in life, she read an article about the decline of the monarch butterfly, and reached out to her friend Annette Wise for advice about planting native plants in her garden to help the species.
“She read an article in 2013 about the decline in monarchs and decided she wanted to do something about it,” Wise told AP.
Rosalynn Carter planted milkweed in her home garden. Monarch butterflies eat milkweed, and part of the reason for their population decline has been drought and temperature extremes wiping out their food source. Planting milkweed is a great way for humans to help the vulnerable species.
Wise then planted another milkweed garden nearby, which led to the creation of the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail, which now consists of 76 public and private gardens.
“The more butterfly gardens that exist, the greater the population of Monarch Butterflies which have been so threatened for the past several decades primarily due to the removal of milkweed plants from farms and properties,” the trail’s website explains.
The Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail also hosts a yearly symposium to educate the public about butterfly conservation and monitors butterfly gardens around the country.
And on her 95th birthday, Rosalynn Carter decided to use the occasion to raise awareness about butterfly conservation, which is more important than ever.
According to AP, the Carters — both now well into their 90s — have been making fewer public appearances since the COVID-19 pandemic, but over the weekend made a rare appearance at the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail.
The occasion marked not only Rosalynn’s 95th birthday, but the dedication of a butterfly sculpture in one of the trail’s gardens.
According to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, the 14-foot-tall and 16-foot-wide sculpture was created by artist Peter Hazel, commissioned in honor of Rosalynn Carter. The piece of art, dubbed “Dancing Monarchs,” features monarch butterflies made of glass and mosaic.
Art collector Jack Bacon, a friend of the Carters who has raised funds for the Carter Center, saw the artist’s work with butterflies and immediately thought of Rosalynn.
“She was extremely happy,” Bacon told AJC. “They were very excited about coming out to see it.”
The butterfly trail is also using Carter’s birthday to promote the Great Georgia Pollinator Census, an annual count of the state’s butterflies, per AP.
Even in her old age and decades after leaving the White House, Rosalynn is still using her influence to help creatures in need of saving.
“[Rosalynn] has been a pioneer in championing causes and policies and establishing resources to address them decades before they became mainstream,” Paige Alexander, chief executive officer of The Carter Center, told AJC.
Other than helping to raise awareness for the monarch butterfly, the former first lady is having a low-key 95th birthday. According to People, she is spending the day with her family at home in Georgia.
Thank you to Rosalynn Carter for doing her part to save the endangered monarch butterfly! 🦋
We’re wishing the former first lady a very happy 95th birthday. Share this story to wish her the best! ❤️🎂