Thanks to the efforts of local naturalists, butterflies will have a safe haven in the area when they begin to hatch next spring.
Volunteers planted milkweed and other wildflowers Friday on a vacant Christman Avenue lot in East Washington to help replenish the dwindling monarch butterfly population.
“The native plant and pollinator project is important because we are losing habitat for pollinators,” said Washington & Jefferson College professor Dr. James G. March. “(The team is) planting at least 17 species of wildflowers. These not only produce pretty flowers but also provide habitat, pollen and nectar for many insects, including bees and monarchs.”
Cissy Cameron, an East Washington native, took charge of the project after a borough council member talked to her about the endangered butterflies. Council passed an ordinance allowing use of 500 square feet of the borough’s property, and Cameron got to work.
“Within two years, if something isn’t done, the monarch will probably be extinct,” Cameron said.
Monarchs can’t live without milkweed, as it is the only food source for their caterpillars, and butterflies will lay their eggs only on that plant. Because development has diminished the country’s milkweed supply, monarch populations continue to dwindle.
Monarch Watch, a nonprofit dedicated to conservation of the butterflies, has more than 5,000 certified “monarch waystations,” or habitats, mostly created in home gardens, schools and parks. The East Washington site will be one of the certified sites.
“It’s going to be a long winter for me because I want it now,” Cameron said.
Cameron and her team planted a mixture of milkweed and wildflowers, which will provide nectar for the flying insects. When they begin to hatch in the spring, Cameron will harvest and tag some of the butterflies for tracking their migration.
Cameron reached out to W&J for its expertise and manpower. March and other staff and students assisted Cameron Friday. The college also made a $300 donation to the cause.
“I’m really into conservation and ecology, and I like doing this type of outreach event,” said Katrina Lenhart, a junior at W&J. “And it’s always good to create natural spaces.”
Cameron has big plans for her little lot. She and Candy DeBerry, a biology professor, will host workshops and offer the space to students for field observation.
“I also hope to use this project as a case study. Students in our classes ... could easily walk to the site and monitor its progress,” March said. “What is now a barren field with few insects will hopefully be blooming and buzzing this time next year.”
W&J students also will design a sign to advertise and educate the community about the project and the importance of native plants and pollinators.
“I’d like for everybody just to come and enjoy this. My hope is that people will want to put little plots in their yards,” Cameron said. “If we can get people to learn about the monarch’s plight, we can make a difference.”
To learn how to create a butterfly habitat, contact Cissy Cameron at email@example.com.