Monday, June 22, 2015

Sharing Best Practices...and Pitfalls!

If Monarch Populations were increasing as fast as the number of partners joining Missourians for Monarchs our goals would be met already!

Project leader Bob Lee (left) has put a lot of miles on his car and hours on his phone contacting people around the state--and he reports that Missourians are eager to help and ready to go.

For some partners, planting milkweed for monarchs and creating butterfly habitat has been part of their program for years.  These partners have some particularly instructive experiences to share...and this blog is a good place to do it.

Please read Guest Blogger Val Frankoski's story about creating a butterfly garden in "post-tornado" Joplin.

Val Frankoski - Chert Glades Chapter
Missouri Master Naturalists Monarch Lead

TO SIGN OR NOT TO SIGN…a cautionary tale   by Val Frankoski

Putting up a sign can draw people in or attempt to keep them out. Sometimes it is difficult to know when to apply which principle, but it is always something to consider seriously. Assuming can get you in to trouble!

Butterflies are often used as a symbol of transformation and renewal. They remain very close the hearts of Joplin residents ever since the May 2011 EF-5 tornado. Post-tornado, numerous children reported that “butterfly people” had protected them during the storm, and those dramatic images provided inspiration.

As part of the community’s recovery and healing from this disaster, a partnership project materialized in the form of a butterfly garden and overlook in Cunningham Park. This park, once embellished by ancient trees, was almost totally destroyed by the tornado. In early 2014, after hardscaping for the project was completed, 40+ volunteers would assemble to plant over 200 plants in preparation for the garden’s dedication.

Just before planting day, I requested a list so I could see which host plants had been included, but no digitized list was available to email. Because of my interest, I was asked to talk about butterfly gardens in general to volunteers on the day of the event. With earnest enthusiasm I stressed the need to have both host and nectar plants in any real butterfly garden and mentioned the monarch and its dependence on milkweed as an example.  Then we all went off to plant. When I got around to examining design plans, I was embarrassed to see how few host or even native plants had been specified!

Nevertheless, the garden was complete with durable signage and currently draws busloads of people to the site on a regular basis…not so sure about butterflies and pollinators.

Afterwards, I expressed my own and our chapter’s gratitude for being included in the project...but disappointment that the butterfly garden concept I unknowingly described to volunteers had NOT been carried out in the planting, with its abundance of primarily nectar plants! With a small amount of cash left in the budget, we were offered an opportunity to let our MO Master Naturalist Chert Glades Chapter adopt another spot in the same park to create our own vision of a host/nectar friendly butterfly garden. Naturally, we accepted!

The spot chosen was in an island bed near the park’s main entrance, adjacent to a parking area. It had about 200 sq. ft. of mulched open space with only a few trees and shrubs. Although the location was a bit windy, the sun exposure, soil and prominent location seemed ideal. This spot would see lots of traffic!

The planting needed to be a bit formal due to its location. We included asters, prairie dropseed, slender mountain mint, spicebush, golden alexander, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, Senna, and of course, milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). We were later gifted with additional milkweed (Ascleias tuberosa).

With plenty of TLC over a hot dry summer, all plants did well over the first year. In fact, three lowly swamp milkweed became sizeable and drew dozens of monarchs in early fall when they laid eggs and transformed into their migratory generation. Anticipation of a more mature garden in 2015 fostered talk of including an interpretive sign to highlight the benefits of native plants and monarch waystations in home gardens. (Initially we did not want to highlight a garden space that was not suitably established or invite pilfering of the plants.)

 The first weeding in early March was followed by an inspection just before Mother's Day to see how plants had come through the winter, look for new volunteer plants, and determine necessary chores.  Instead we were panic-stricken to see what appeared to be weed killer damage on more than 50% of the plants! Some were completely dead; some seemed on their way out, while still others appeared to remain in mint condition.

After contacting the City Arborist about our suspicions, he discovered park staff had been turned loose with weed killer the previous week. He was astonished everyone on staff didn’t know about the planting. We were told to make a list of plants needing replacement. Some plants had apparently been missed by the sprayer, but death continued to claim more plants during the next two weeks.

In late May, Missouri Wildflower Nursery delivered replacements as part of a sale at Wildcat Glades Conservation Camp; Audubon Center in Joplin. 

The garden has been replanted, initial outrage has subsided, and a large number of seedlings emerged, including a few more swamp milkweed!

The moral of this story is that waiting to include some sort of sign can be a big mistake. It is now obvious that signage was needed from the get-go and we helped bring this disaster on ourselves.
Inelegant but clear signs now define this as a “NO SPRAY ZONE.” I have also requested an onsite meeting with staff ASAP. Better late than never.

Learn from our mistake! Never assume!

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