The Butterfly Effect


Milkweed in the herb garden

Orange is my least favorite color. Though I’m fond of it in marigolds and pumpkins, and have been known to appreciate a field of California poppies, I generally avoid orange flowers. So when I wanted to help out the monarch butterflies (which also get a pass on orange), I tried planting pink or white flowered milkweed. Whether through mislabeled seed packets, chance, mutation, or chicanery, what I got was orange flowered milkweed. I was feeling grumpy about this until I discovered that a monarch butterfly had found it.

I watched the monarch fanning herself over the flowerheads, lighting here and there along the way. As she flapped her wings I thought of the butterfly effect: the idea that the small shiver of her wingbeats in the local atmosphere could propagate, cascading, until it influenced an entire tornado forming – or not forming – somewhere else. It is a very pleasing demonstration of the interconnectedness of separate actions, and inspires hope that small local acts can lead to big changes in the country, or even the world.

Milkweed – what an innocuous-sounding plant. But the reason the monarch caterpillars thrive by feasting on it, is that it supplies their bodies, and those of the butterflies they become, with a foul-tasting, heart-stopping steroid that deters or destroys would-be butterfly predators. The butterfly, all delicate stained glass flutter, has this power at her core. No one talks about this butterfly effect, but it is proven, rather than supposed, and of much greater importance to the butterfly. Just thinking about it, I feel strong.


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