Saving the Butterflies: Alumna Works to Protect Pollinators

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Emily Sampson

Though pollinators come in many forms, including birds, bats and bees, alumna Emily Sampson ‘07 will tell you she is particularly fond of butterflies. However, as head grower at Painters Greenhouse, Sampson is more than just a butterfly enthusiast.

Concerned about declining pollinator populations, Sampson is championing efforts to expand pollinator habitats in the town of Black Mountain, and she is passionate about one species in particular: the monarch butterfly.

“Pollinators are so intertwined with the needs of humans and the natural world,” Sampson said.

In fact, without the assistance of pollinators, most plants cannot produce fruits and seeds that serve as an important food source for people and wildlife. But, like many species of pollinators, monarchs have become vulnerable in recent years due to factors including habitat destruction and climate change, and Sampson is determined to make a difference.Photo courtesy of Emily Sampson

With the help of community volunteers and plant donations from Painters Greenhouse, Sampson led the initiative to install two milkweed meadows adjacent to the Black Mountain Greenway. A native plant species, milkweed serves as a critical habitat and food source for monarchs as they make their astounding 2000 mile annual migration across the U.S.

Sampson said her project is making an observable impact.

“In one of plots there were more than 100 monarch caterpillars last fall,” Sampson said. “I was able to see, first season, that my project made a difference. It added 100 monarch butterflies to the migration.”

Sampson said that, at times, she had to overcome difficult obstacles to make the monarch meadows a reality, and that her degree from UNC Asheville serves as a testament to one of the most profound lessons she learned during her time as a student: the value of persistence and hard work.

“People know that you are capable of accomplishing something when you have that degree,” Sampson said. “They know that you worked really hard at something, and that you’re willing to follow through.”

Having worked on the grounds crew for several years as a student, Sampson credits UNC Asheville Campus Operations staff with providing her with specialized knowledge and mentorship that has been instrumental in helping her achieve her goals for pollinator habitat restoration.

"I was inspired and helped along the way by not only the great faculty at UNC Asheville, but also the incredible staff,” Sampson said. “I learned a lot from the knowledgeable team of workers, especially Landscape Director Melissa Acker. Melissa has actually come out to the Black Mountain meadow site with me on several occasions to offer advice."

Photo courtesy of Emily SampsonSampson’s persistence and expertise makes her a valuable asset to monarchs and, in partnership with Painters Greenhouse, she is continuing her conservation efforts by providing ongoing education about and resources for pollinators in the Black Mountain community.

For the sake of the next generation, she said she hopes that individuals, businesses and communities continue to pay attention to the needs of these important animals. Having received a degree in biology, Sampson said it’s apparent to her why pollinators are important environmentally, but that it doesn’t require any specialized knowledge to appreciate one of their most obvious contributions.

“They add beauty to our world. I would hate for my kid to grow up in a world without butterflies all around.”

Story and portrait by Sarah Carballo ‘17