City by the Sea Seeks to Become Israel's Butterfly Capital

For years, the head of the Israel Lepidopterists Society, Dubi Benyamini, has tried to encourage interest in the creation of gardens in which the object of the society's affections - butterflies - would feel at home.

He has finally found a place that will help to do exactly that, in Bat Yam, a densely populated city that wants to become more ecologically appealing and sees butterflies as welcome inhabitants.

Yesterday the Bat Yam municipality, together with its Biennale of Landscape Urbanism began a campaign to encourage residents and businesses to raise plants that attract butterflies. They were encouraged by a study Benyamini conducted last summer in the city, which showed that it is home to at least 15 species of butterfly.

"Every species of butterfly has a plant that is its host and where it lays its eggs, and these are the plants we've planted," Eliav Hatuka, head of the city's landscaping department, explained, standing near a garden overlooking the sea. "In recent years these plants have become rarer in nature and so have open spaces. These gardens will be able to support butterflies for a long time," Hatuka said.

The city has invested quite a bit in local and national publicity about the project, which it has rather bombastically named, "The Great Butterfly Experiment." In addition to sales points throughout the city, special wagons with the plants will be passing through Bat Yam's neighborhoods with the items for sale at discount prices.

Some of the new planters could already be seen at coffee shops along Bat Yam's promenade, while on the other side of the promenade, sales points were doing a brisk business. Bat Yam resident Rafi Tamir bought 10 for his employer, a local lawyer. "He loves nature so he asked me to buy them" Tamir said.

Esther Abarbanel, another buyer, said, "We heard the mayor [Shlomo Lahiani] said it's an important project so I decided to buy. I love beautiful things, flowers and butterflies."

The project will be presented as part of the biennale and a visitors' center is planned.

Benyamini, who recently published a book on butterfly gardens in Israel, says the Bat Yam butterfly project gives people a chance to enjoy nature close to home and also notes that the plants need little irrigation. "Butterflies are an ecological marker. If they're present, it's a sign the environment is healthy."