All it takes is a few milkweed seeds to help recover a summertime treasure that has become a rarity in recent years.
The distinctively-colored, orange-and-black monarch butterfly that once danced in droves through yards and fields is on the decline, and the Schaumburg Park District is helping boost the population.
The District is establishing 15 monarch waystations, or certified butterfly habitats, in parks and natural areas, including:
- Spring Valley Nature Center, 1111 E. Schaumburg Road.
- Volkening Lake, 900 W. Schaumburg Road.
- Meineke Park. 220 E. Weathersfield Way.
- Gray Farm Park & Conservation Area, 120 Cloverdale Lane.
- Oak Hollow Conservation Area, 1101 E. Aegean Drive.
Waystations feature a variety of native plants, in particular milkweed, an essential ingredient of the monarch habitat. Development and widespread use of herbicides have led to a decrease in milkweed in recent years, according to University of Kansas-based Monarchwatch.org, which certifies waystations and promotes planting milkweed to offset the loss of nectar sources. Remaining milkweed habitats are not satisfactory for supporting large monarch populations seen in the 1990s, according to the website.
“There definitely is a need for waystations, especially in urban areas,” said Dave Brooks, manager of conservation services for Spring Valley Nature Center. “Monarchs aren’t endangered, but their numbers are down. Now it’s up to us in urban areas to plant more milkweed so monarchs have a habitat in which to lay their eggs.”
Growing up in Pasadena, Calif., Schaumburg resident Carol Johnson was used to seeing butterflies among the fruit trees her father grew. Today, the retired realtor and Master Gardener intern for the University of Illinois Extension is working with local garden clubs and other organizations to help establish monarch waystations throughout the northwest suburbs.
“I’ve always been fascinated by butterflies,” Johnson said. “They have an almost spiritual meaning, and they make children happy.”
Johnson has worked with the Master Gardener Program to collect milkweed seeds at Spring Valley as part of Make a Difference Day in October. She also distributes seeds packaged by the Hoffman Estates Garden Club at local environmental fairs and farmers’ markets. Butterfly gardens are easy to establish, she said.
“Butterfly gardening is becoming more popular as people realize how simple it is for families to create them in their own backyards,” Johnson said. “It’s just a matter of a few milkweeds.”
In addition to milkweed, other butterfly-friendly native plants featured in District waystations include black-eyed Susan, bee balm, blazing star and purple coneflower, said Garrett Dalton, parks supervisor. Signage designating the areas is expected to arrive from Monarchwatch.org in the next few weeks.
The District gardens will join about 13,077 certified gardens worldwide, with a majority in the United States, said Monarchwatch.org spokeswoman Angie Babbit. Certification costs $16 per habitat and requires the installation of certain plants and sustainable management practices. Signs may be purchased for an additional fee.
To Brooks, waystations are an ideal way to get the public more involved in nature.
“Butterflies are hard not to appreciate,” Brooks said. “They’re a great connection point for people to become interested in nature and native plants. Pretty much everyone likes butterflies.”
For more information, call (847) 985-2100 or visit www.parkfun.com.