Monarchs And Milkweed: Raising Awareness And Planting Gardens
Every year, millions of Monarch butterflies cross the U.S. from Canada to the Sierra Madre Mountain range in Mexico. Fort Wayne sits in the path of this yearly migration. In an effort to bring awareness to issues around the butterflies' habitat, Concordia Lutheran High School began a new project, Monarchs and Milkweed Project.
Paula Booth teaches Spanish at Concordia, and came up with the idea for the monarch sanctuary. She said she used to spend a lot of time on her grandparents’ farm as a kid, and there’s one very specific memory associated with the farm that she’s never forgotten.
“I just remember lots and lots of monarch butterflies,” she said, also remembering and regretting collecting those butterflies.
“I mean, it wasn’t nice, but we did it,” Booth said, “But I mean they were everywhere, and now when you think about it, with my own kids, you rarely see a monarch butterfly.”
Monarch butterflies only became more visible in Booth’s career as a Spanish teacher at Concordia. She says she and fellow Spanish teachers teach culture as well as language in their Spanish classes. One of the significant holidays that Booth teaches about is, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Dia de los Muertos is not “Mexican Halloween,” as it’s sometimes translated. Rather, it’s a holiday of remembrance of loved ones that have passed away.
Because monarchbutterflies reach Mexico around the time of the festivities, the butterflies are believed by some to be the spirits of those that have passed away.
Booth’s initial love for butterflies as a child and her understanding of their importance in Mexican culture, made them ideal partners for teaching.
“We have students who are studying the butterfly in Spanish,” Booth said, “And its life-cycle and what it needs for its habitat and things like that.”
The more Booth learned about monarch butterflies while researching material to use in class, the more she learned about their almost-endangered status with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She wanted to help, and decided a butterfly sanctuary on the school’s campus was a good start.
“I don’t really know how the idea occurred to me one day, that we had this outdoor space,” she said, “And we could potentially put a monarch garden out there and it’s the kind of thing that once I put it out there, it’s just been snowballing ever since.”
The space for the proposed sanctuary is Concordia’s “Our Creator’s Classroom,” an outdoor garden on campus near North Anthony Boulevard. The sounds of the cars passing by can be jarring at first, but the constant noise quickly becomes part of the scenery.
And though there’s lots of foliage in the Creator’s Classroom, monarchs require a very specific environment to thrive. Booth walks over to the area that has been set aside for the monarchs, or where the Mariposa Club will plant Milkweed for the butterflies.
Sean Nolan works with Sanctuary Native Landscapes. It’s his job to find the best type of plants to put in the sanctuary. He says infrastructure like roads and highways have contributed greatly to the destruction of the Monarch’s habitat. But he pointed out that there are different milkweed varieties suited to thrive in different environments.
“We’ve come together and we’re looking at the site to determine what are the right plants to put in here that are going to be most supportive of monarchs and their complete lifecycle,'' Nolan said.
Monarchs depend on milkweed specifically to survive. Females lay their eggs underneath the plant. Nolan said it’s also important to include year long plants in the sanctuary that can continue to support monarch butterflies after Milkweed is gone.
“And so what we’re trying to do is provide the habitat for them to not only lay eggs, but then for the adult butterfly to be able to feed later,” he said.
While Booth’s excited about a lot of different aspects of the project, she says working with other groups in the community to potentially kick off other patches of flowers and milkweed around the city for monarchs, is something she looks forward to doing.
“It’s exciting to see kind of the collaboration that’s happening and all the different entities that are coming together to promote the survival of the species,” she said.
The Monarchs and Milkweed project recently received an almost $1,200 grant from the Fort Wayne Soup program to help build the sanctuary.
Though thenumber of butterflies has gone up, according to recent reporting by Indiana Public Media, the species has not been removed from endangered status by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That is in part due to concerns over the species' habitat.