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California Garden Center Leads by Example with Monarch Wishing Tree

By Melissa Manuel on 1. June 2023
Melissa Manuel

Each spring in Corona Del Mar, California, a beautiful mature ficus tree transforms into something extra special for the folks that visit Roger’s Gardens plant nursery. The tree becomes the nursery’s Monarch Wishing Tree, its branches displaying hundreds of wishes written on little wooden butterflies. 

The Monarch Wishing Tree was launched by the nursery to raise awareness for the imperiled western monarch butterfly. Visitors can make a wish and hang a butterfly for a suggested donation of $5. The wishing tree raises funds that go to support the Xerces Society. As the tree fills up with wishes, it begins to resemble the overwintering trees full of monarch butterflies. Every monarch that is hung on the tree symbolizes the recovery of this iconic butterfly.


Tree with hanging wooden monarchs surrounded by signs and plants
Roger’s Gardens facilitates the Monarch Wishing Tree, sells kits for monarch habitat, displays educational signs, and runs a milkweed exchange program. (Photo: Roger's Gardens.)


Garden centers can connect people to nature

The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is perhaps the most well-known and beloved butterfly in North America.  From coast to coast, their appearance in gardens, prairies, and natural areas signals the arrival of spring in northern states and Canadian provinces.  Known for their long-distance migrations and magnificent winter gatherings in Mexico and California, monarch butterfly populations have declined to dangerously low levels. Researchers and community scientists estimate that only a fraction of the population remains. A decline of approximately 70% has been seen in central Mexico and a decline of more than 90% has been seen in California.

Ron Vanderhoff, a professional horticulturist at Roger’s Gardens, said, “The garden centers and those that are involved in gardening have a responsibility. We need to set the right example, guide plant-choice decisions, protect our limited natural resources and be leaders. Garden centers don’t just sell plants, they are an important place for people to understand and connect with nature and the planet. With the proper plants and actions, we want to help bring nature into their garden, and in the process add to biodiversity and healthy urban environments.”


Wooden butterfly with wish written: For butterflies to light up the world
Customers leave well wishes for monarchs and others on the Monarch Wishing Tree. (Photo: Roger's Gardens.)


Exchanging milkweed and ideas transforms community monarch habitat

The Monarch Wishing Tree is one of several components of Roger’s Gardens’ Milkweeds for Monarchs campaign. Another part of their campaign is the nursery’s free milkweed exchange program. The way it works is simple: people can pull a tropical milkweed out of their garden, bring it to the nursery, and receive a  pesticide-free, locally native milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) in exchange, for free. There is no fine print, no purchase needed, and nothing to register for, just a simple one-for-one exchange. 

Beyond the backyard, the Monarch Wishing Tree has also had a ripple effect on the wider community. “One of the most fulfilling aspects of being a monarch conservation resource in our community is interacting with children and young people,” said Ron, recalling a  particularly memorable experience with a local Girl Scout Troop. 


Wooden butterfly with written wish: I wish our garden turns out beautiful
Customer Olivia wishes for a beautiful garden this year. (Photo: Roger's Gardens.)


The troop was aware of the monarch’s plight and visited Roger’s Gardens to learn more. With a bit of help from the local nursery, the young troops soon became monarch experts, studying, learning, and eventually setting up monarch information tables around town to teach others  how to help. The nursery then collaborated with the troop and the city of Corona Del Mar to install a demonstration pollinator garden at city halls. The troop now calls themselves the Newport Beach Girl Scout Pollinators.  

Last year, the wishing tree raised over $6,000 for the Xerces Society. We are so grateful for their support and our staff have been inspired by Roger’s Gardens' impactful idea of bringing folks together. If you are considering hosting a fundraiser in your community, we invite you to consider doing so with Xerces’ fundraising platform.


Monarch Wishing Tree holding up hundreds of wooden butterflies
The Monarch Wishing Tree is a beautiful and heartwarming fundraiser, for which the Xerces Society is extremely grateful. (Photo: Roger's Gardens.)


Melissa joined Xerces in 2022 as the Donor Engagement Specialist, working with the Membership team. She is a "retired" young farmer with over a decade of expertise in urban farming, agroforestry, garden design and education. Before joining Xerces, she worked as a horticulturist at Leach Botanical Garden. Melissa holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Portland State University and has worked with a number of environmental non-profit groups throughout her career.

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