The Waystation: Students hope to entice migrating butterflies to their garden
The Recorder, July 20, 2013
Story by Chris Shores/Photos by Paul Franz
As Four Corners School teacher Marianne Harcourt helps students in the background,
two students select plants next to the retaining wall embellished with chalk drawings of the gardens in bloom.
One sunny afternoon near the end of the school year, 11 Greenfield elementary students ventured outside with shovels in hand (or hands ready to become shovels) to plant in the garden adjacent to The Discovery School at Four Corners.
Their goal: grow a garden that will attract monarch butterflies.
It’s a task that requires careful planning since the garden must contain three main things: bright colored flowers (to get the butterflies’ attention), milkweed (for them to lay their eggs on and for the caterpillars to eat) and other nectar-producing flowers (for their primary energy source).
The students at Four Corners are becoming old pros at building these gardens. The school’s garden became a certified “Monarch Waystation” by MonarchWatch.org in fall 2011
But construction to the school’s windows last summer forced teachers and students to start from scratch this year. And so first and second-grade students, who learn about insects at the school, have been busy planting to prepare for the upcoming butterfly migration.
The garden — two narrow beds and a horseshoe bed, which each contain milkweed and dill scattered throughout — also includes bee balm, butterfly bush, black-eyed Susan, daylillies, liatris spicata, perennial mums, phlox, sedum “autumn joy,” shasta daisy and sundrops.
The Greenfield Garden Club awarded a $200 grant to the school to pay for this year’s garden restoration.
Each fall, monarch butterflies take an epic migratory journey from northern United States and Canada down to Mexico for the winter. Then, during the spring and summer, they make their way back north through southeastern United States.
The monarch butterflies who leave for the south each year are actually the great, great- grandchildren of the butterflies who took the journey the previous fall.
One generation travels south each fall and then begins the return journey in the spring, laying eggs before they die. But during the summer, monarch butterflies live only two to six weeks, so three more generations will be born during their journey north.
The last butterflies to die this year (the parents of the ones who will travel south) will look for a spot to lay their eggs sometime in late summer or early fall. The Four Corners garden includes annuals and perennials that contain bright colors that students hope will draw butterflies in. But the brightly colored flowers are useless if the butterflies don’t have a place to lay their eggs and food for the caterpillars. This is where milkweed comes in and it’s the most prominent plant in the Four Corners garden. No milkweed, no butterflies.
Nectar-producing plants are crucial, too, since they will be the butterflies’ primary source of energy. One of the primary reasons groups like Monarch Watch promote the creation of waystations is the destruction of natural milkweed and nectar habitats. The plants must actively be preserved along the migratory routes for the monarch butterflies to be able to survive.
Time is of the essence, butterfly advocates say. Survey reports from Mexico this year indicate that monarch numbers dropped 59 percent this year and are the lowest they’ve been in two decades.
And so, Greenfield teachers and students are hoping the garden will be up to the task of attracting butterflies, providing a place for them to lay their eggs and then acting as a short-term home for the larvae to grow into butterflies before their migration.
“We need the garden so that butterflies can come and rest here, because they have a long journey to Mexico,” said Four Corners student LK.
Students watched the life cycle of a butterfly firsthand last year when they had one in their classroom. First comes the caterpillar, then the transformation stage of the chrysalis (or pupa) and finally the emergence of the adult butterfly.
Building your own garden
The students at Four Corners are becoming old pros at building these gardens. The school’s garden became a certified “Monarch Waystation” by MonarchWatch.org in fall 2011. Want to build your own butterfly garden? The Four Corners students have some tips.
“You must have a milkweed plant because the butterflies will need to lay eggs on it,” said K. Teachers Marianne Harcourt and Kathy LaBreck recommend putting milkweed in multiple places throughout the garden to attract monarchs.
This garden specifically targets monarch butterflies, which is why there is so much milkweed. But other butterflies prefer different host plants. The garden includes some dill, for instance, to attract Black Swallowtail butterflies.
“You will need flowers (because butterflies) drink the nectar,” said KC.
The flowers need to bloom in late summer or fall, said AW because that’s when the monarch butterflies will be in the area. Gardens that attract other butterflies may need to have a mix of different times when the flowers bloom.
And they should be bright, said JM, like “the colors in the rainbow.” Monarch Watch recommends grouping flowers by color (especially red, orange, yellow and purple) to help butterflies see them.
AT recommends investing in a butterfly bush so that the butterflies have a place to rest. Monarch Watch is adamant that the garden, and nearby areas, should be free of any pesticides or insecticides, which kill butterflies.
First- and second-grade students have been busy planting to prepare for the
upcoming butterfly migration in late summer or early fall.
Four Corners teacher Kathy LaBreck and her students carry supplies to the butterfly garden. It was crazy hair day at the school that day.
MO holds plants for the Butterfly Garden at Four Corners.
CB and AT plant butterfly plants on what happens to be “crazy hair day” at the school.
Four Corners Teacher Marianne Harcourt helps AF, JM and LK plant butterfly-friendly plants
Some of the beds in the background are used for vegetables also.
THE DISCOVERY SCHOOL AT FOUR CORNERS-HANDBOOK INFORMATION 2012-13 (pdf)
INFORMATION ABOUT THE RESPONSIVE CLASSROOM APPROACH AT THE DISCOVERY SCHOOL (pdf)
Discovery School @ Four Corners-Year in Review (2013-14)
Discovery School @ Four Corners-Year in Review (2011-12)
Discovery School @ Four Corners-Year in Review (2010-11)