Worked to Conserve Monarch Butterfly Habitat
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Each fall, millions of monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada to hibernating areas in Mexico and California, where they wait out the winter until conditions favor a return flight in the spring.
Without milkweeds throughout their spring and summer breeding areas, monarchs would not be able to reproduce and create new generations that complete the migration. Similarly, without nectar from flowers, monarchs would not receive the energy needed to make their long journey.
The Douglas County Master Gardeners were recognized at the 2013 International Master Gardener Conference held Sept. 7-14 for their efforts in conserving monarch habitat. The local organization was recognized in the Search for Excellence program for its volunteer work with Monarch Waystation #1, a pollinator garden designed as a replicable model and functional habitat for monarch butterflies and other pollinators, said Jennifer Smith, former Douglas County extension agent in horticulture, who previously worked as a trainer and adviser to the local Master Gardener program. The Master Gardener program is part of K-State Research and Extension.
According to the Monarch Watch website, milkweeds and nectar sources are declining due to urban development and the widespread use of herbicides in croplands, pastures and roadsides. In recent years, development, especially in prime monarch breeding grounds of the upper Midwest of the United States, has eliminated millions of acres of monarch habitat. The widespread use of herbicide-resistant corn and soybeans also threatens the plant, when spraying fields to remove unwanted plants, farmers also eliminate the butterflies’ habitat without intending to.
To offset the loss of habitat, there is a need to create, conserve, and protect milkweed and nectar sources. Without a major effort to restore milkweeds to as many locations as possible, the monarch population is certain to decline to extremely low levels.
The Search for Excellence program recognizes Master Gardener projects throughout the U.S. and Canada for their volunteer work and contribution to their communities in seven different categories.
Since establishment in 2004, Monarch Waystation #1, located on the University of Kansas’s west campus near Foley Hall, has served as a model for more than 7,200 pollinator gardens in North America.
The need for the garden and waystation program was spurred by the research of Orley “Chip” Taylor, professor of insect ecology at the University of Kansas. Taylor runs the Monarch Watch organization. He is one of the nation's leading experts on monarchs and has studied them since 1992. He recognizes this effort won’t replace the amount of milkweed that has been lost, but hopes the waystations will get the public involved in the conservation effort, Smith said.
Douglas County Master Gardeners worked with Taylor in the development of the garden and continue to partner with Monarch Watch for educational outreach. Monarch Waystation #1, like any garden, is a labor in process, Smith said. Since establishment, the garden has grown to more than 10,000 square feet. A rain garden has been added to handle runoff from the development of KU’s pharmacy school as well as a prairie garden and sitting area that provide recreational space. Although many plants are labeled, Master Gardeners continue to work on labeling and creating resources to help others create their own waystations.
Waystations are not specific to college campuses; many serve as community gardens or are located at schools, nature centers, retirement homes, places of worship and recreational facilities. A large percentage of waystation gardens also are at the private residences of adults and children concerned about the migration of the monarch butterfly.
“My garden is registered as Monarch Waystation #7032,” Smith said. “The key is including plants that provide food for butterfly larvae as well as planting flowers that attract the prettier adults.”
Information about how to create a pollinator garden is available on the Monarch Watch website
, under “Butterfly Gardening.” On the Monarch Watch website, visitors can also register their waystation and learn more about the migration of the monarch.