The Monarch butterfly is one of the most recognizable and charismatic species of insects native to Cleveland Metroparks. Their spry flight and beautiful coloration make them a sight to behold. Unfortunately, we have seen a significant decrease in our Monarch butterfly populations in the last few decades. As Naturalist Bethany Majeski wrote in an earlier blog post, the success of Monarch butterflies is directly linked to availability of their host plant: milkweed.
Massive losses in milkweed are tied to the development of genetically modified, herbicide resistant crops, which allow farmers to apply herbicide to their fields without harming their crops. These herbicides, such as glyphosate, kill off many native plants that previously grew in great abundance in the margins of their fields, including milkweeds. Losses in overwintering habitat and threats to Monarch migration patterns are also causes for the dramatic decline in Monarch populations.
In response to this decline, Monarch activists have been planting Monarch Waystations along their migration routes and at popular summering locations. A Monarch Waystation is simply a garden that features plants that support a healthy Monarch population by supporting their entire life cycle. Native wildflowers offer nectar sources for adult Monarchs and, of course, milkweed is typically abundant in these gardens to provide host plants for eggs and caterpillars.
An example of a Monarch Waystation at The Shelterhouse in South Chagrin Reservation. (Photo by Carly Martin)
Thanks to the generosity of the Char and Chuck Fowler Family Foundation, Cleveland Metroparks is partnering with local schools to install Monarch Waystations on both the school campuses and at several Cleveland Metroparks reservations.
At West Creek Reservation, we have teamed up with St. Columbkille School’s 3rd grade class to work on this unique project. The students visited the Watershed Stewardship Center in September to harvest and clean common milkweed seeds that they will plant and care for in their classrooms beginning next winter. During classroom visits, we play educational games and discuss the life cycle and migration patterns of Monarch butterflies, as well as the biology of milkweed. This year-long project will include many more visits to train students about Monarchs ecology and how to successfully plant and care for milkweed. The experience will culminate with the installation of waystations in the spring. Needless to say, both the students and I look forward to our meetings; they because these beautiful creatures captivate their sense of wonder for the natural world, and I because seeing the enjoyment it brings them to have an opportunity to make a difference for these threatened butterflies is truly inspiring.
St. Columbkille 3rd Graders learn how to harvest milkweed (Photo by Jen Bisesi)
Be sure to look for our newly installed Monarch Waystation at West Creek Reservation next summer. When you do, I hope you acknowledge the story of the children responsible for the garden, for it is my hope that this project will not only provide breeding habitat for Monarch butterflies, but will also foster environmental awareness and stewardship in our next generation.