Carlsbad restaurant creates butterfly garden to teach diners about plight of monarchs

A monarch butterfly alights on a pollinator plant in the new butterfly garden at Seasons Restaurant in Carlsbad.
(Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara)

Guests at Seasons can see the insects in metamorphosis and order food, drinks inspired by butterflies


At most restaurants, having crawling or flying bugs around your table would be a bad thing. But at Carlsbad’s Seasons Restaurant, a butterfly garden has been planted at the center of its dining patio in the hope of attracting migrating monarchs to the spot during their summer migration.

The collection of tropical and native local milkweeds were planted in the restaurant’s raised garden about three weeks ago. At noon on Monday, distinctively striped monarch caterpillars could be seen inching their way along the plants’ leaves and beginning to spin themselves into their chrysalis, the hanging cocoon-like pods in which they metamorphose into a butterfly.

A monarch caterpillar crawls on narrow leaf milkweed in the new butterfly garden at Seasons Restaurant in Carlsbad.
A monarch caterpillar crawls on narrow leaf milkweed in the new butterfly garden at Seasons Restaurant in Carlsbad. The restaurant is hoping to educate its patio diners on the declining monarch population and raise money for conservation with butterfly-themed cocktails.
(Courtesy of Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara)

The goal of planting the garden, and the butterfly-themed food and drink items the restaurant is creating for its happy hour menu this summer, is to raise the public’s awareness about the decline of the monarch species. The public can help restore monarch numbers by planting native milkweed plants in their backyard gardens during the spring and summer months. Monarch butterflies eat a variety of pollinator plants, but milkweed is the sole diet of monarch larvae.

Seasons Restaurant is a public restaurant on the property of the Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara on Blue Heron Place in Carlsbad. Because about 80 percent of Residence Club guests are annual visitors — many of them families with small children — the property offers youth activity programs each year. This summer, the activities theme is monarch migration, said sales and marketing coordinator Jennifer Schmelzle.

A monarch butterfly chrysalis hangs from a leaf in the butterfly garden at Seasons Restaurant in Carlsbad.
A green monarch butterfly chrysalis hangs from the underside of a leaf, center left, in the butterfly garden at Seasons Restaurant in Carlsbad.
(Courtesy of Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara)

To purchase the appropriate milkweeds, many with eggs already laid on their leaves, and train the restaurant’s staff about the monarch life cycle, the Four Seasons worked closely with Pat Flanagan, owner of Butterfly Farms, a nonprofit education and conservation organization based in Encinitas. Flanagan is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to cultivate and sell native Carlsbad narrow leaf milkweed plants that are unique to this region.

According to Butterfly Farms, the migratory Western monarch butterfly population has been in sharp decline over the past 20 years. The decline has been attributed to various sources, which include the gradual loss of breeding habitats, herbicides and extreme weather events, such as rising temperatures, heavy rains and drought.

A garden at Seasons Restaurant in Carlsbad is planted with milkweed to attract migratory Western monarchs.
A garden at Seasons Restaurant in Carlsbad is planted with milkweed plants to attract migratory Western monarch butterflies.
(Courtesy of Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara)

Biologists at Washington State University and other research institutions reported in 2019 that the population of migratory Western monarchs declined by 99 percent from the 1980s to 2019. In January of this year, officials with the Xerxes Society for Invertebrate Conservation, reported that during the 24th Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count last November, volunteers at nearly 250 locations counted just 1,914 monarchs, a 99.9 decline from when the counts began in 1997. The population of Western migratory monarchs, estimated to be well below 30,000, is considered to be on the “quasi-extinction threshold.”

“We may be witnessing the collapse of the Western migration of monarch butterflies. A migration of millions of monarchs reduced to 2,000 in a few decades,” wrote Xerxes researchers Emma Pelton and Stephanie McKnight about the 2020 count.

To save the species, researchers recommended restoring and protecting the monarchs’ overwintering and migratory habitats in California.

Monarchs spend the summer and fall months in the Pacific Northwest, Colorado and New Mexico then migrate to California and Central Mexico for the winter and spring. Monarchs lay their eggs on the leaves of milkweed plants, usually around March. In the spring, they hatch into larvae, or caterpillars, that voraciously devour the plants until they’re ready to transform into a chrysalis.

At Seasons Restaurant, staff member who spot new chrysalis pods hanging from the undersides of leaves are snipping those branches and moving them into a butterfly cage that protects the pods from pests and predators. Once the butterflies hatch, Four Seasons staff is doing spontaneous butterfly releases with children who are staying at the property.

The Butterfly Nectar dessert at Seasons Restaurant in Carlsbad.
The Butterfly Nectar dessert at Seasons Restaurant in Carlsbad was created to support the restaurant’s monarch migration education program.
(Kambria Fischer Photography )

The milkweed plants will be continually replenished at the restaurant during migration season, which runs from June 15 through Sept. 16. Also, during those dates, Seasons Restaurant will be serving a number of butterfly-themed cocktails, appetizers and desserts during happy hour from 2 to 5 p.m. daily. Ten percent of butterfly cocktail sales will be donated to Butterfly Farms.

Items include a raw scallop “cocooned” in thin-sliced jicama with aguachile sauce, a Metamorphosis cocktail that changes color when brewed butterfly pea flower juice is poured on top tableside nd the Butterfly Nectar, a melon and hibiscus sorbet dessert with a folded palmier pastry on top that looks like butterfly wings.

The aguachile dish a Seasons Restaurant in Carlsbad.
The aguachile dish, with raw scallops “cocooned” in a jicama wrap, is one of several butterfly-inspired dishes that will be served tis summer at Seasons Restaurant in Carlsbad.
(Kambria Fischer Photography)