ASHLAND, Ky. — Ashland has joined a national movement to help save the disappearing Monarch butterfly by providing habitat for the migratory insect.
A Monarch Way Station was planted in Central Park on Tuesday by members of the Southern Hills Garden Club in cooperation with the City of Ashland, Boyd County Public Library and Crabbe Elementary.
The way station is along the backside of the library at the edge of the school’s playground. Gretchen Hill’s special education class plans to tend the garden while students learn about the life cycle of butterflies, said Jerri Rupert, who helped to organize the planting.
Garden club members are applying to Monarch Watch to have the site certified as a Monarch Way Station, and educational signage will be erected. Rupert said the creation of Monarch Way Stations across the state is a priority of the Kentucky Garden Club. In addition to the park garden, members are planting way stations at their homes and hope to encourage more public plantings.
Way stations provide vital habitat for the butterflies as they migrate through the area. Monarchs only lay their eggs on milkweed plants, the leaves of which the larvae eat exclusively after they have hatched.
These native plants are disappearing across the country because of urbanization as well as the increased use of pesticides on crops and along roadsides where milkweed plants normally flourish. Populations of the species are declining rapidly, and Monarchs are classified as "near threatened" by the World Wildlife Fund.
The butterflies weigh less than an ounce, yet make one of the longest migrations on Earth. Each year, a new "super generation," of the butterflies will travel up to 1,500 miles between Canada and southern Mexico to roost several months before starting the species’ gradual migration back to Canada. Two or three new generations complete the migration back to Canada before another "super generation" migrates to Mexico.
Among the native plants in Ashland’s garden, which are host or nectar plants for the butterflies are butterfly milkweed, common milkweed and swamp milkweed, Joe-Pye weed, purple Coneflower, regular and dwarf butterfly bushes along with Autum Joy Sedum, Asters and Iron weeds, said Kim Jenkins, who developed the garden design and procured the plants for the project.
Carla Jaenicke was among the garden club members helping to plant the garden recently. She said the club has been in existence for more than 50 years and has a long history of civic projects.
Members were very excited to see a garden in Central Park that can double as scenery and an educational tool, said Jaenicke. "A lot of people want to do this, but they need to know how," she said.
Library spokeswoman Amanda Gilmore said the library, which funded part of the project, is hoping to do its own education programming in the fall. She envisions the library being able to provide some seeds or small plants for individuals to take home and plant.
The end of summer, said Jenkins, is an excellent time to plant a way station.
"Now is a perfect time to do it, now until about the first of October is excellent because it gives plants time to establish their roots," Jenkins said. She noted the milkweed is the hardest plant to find. Area greenhouses carry the plant, and way station seed mixes are available online.
"It’s very exciting that it is a community project," said Phyllis Hunter, a co-president of the club. "We’re learning and we’re trying to spread it. Everyone is trying to preserve our environment."
"Where but in a small town can you get the park board, the library and the garden clubs and the local landscaper together? Where would you even start in a big city? You’d have so much red tape. We’ve had so much support," Rupert said.
"There is just something so magical in the flight of a butterfly. It’s a signal, too. It’s a harbinger for us all of what is going to happen to us if we don’t watch our environments and take care of things. They are small and they are very vulnerable. We are bigger and we can tolerate a lot more, but if they can’t make it, it is a sign for us that we need to watch," Rupert said. "God kind of likes us to take care of the smallest of things."
For more information about the Monarch Way Station project or the butterflies, visit MonarchWatch.org.