Park Forest Public Library has proven that if you build the habitat, the monarchs will come! Last year, thanks to a generous donation, the library built the beautiful Donna E. Wade Butterfly Garden right outside the windows in the children’s area. The garden is planted with a variety of perennials and annuals that serve as nectar plants. Surrounding the library there is a sea of purple coneflowers, black-eyed susans, and most importantly, milkweed, and behind the library you’ll find a diversity of native plants lining the creek. Victoria Wittig, the library’s Outreach Specialist, added an herb garden last year and a pollinator garden this year, qualifying the library as an official monarch waystation with Monarch Watch.
With the new butterfly garden last year, Victoria started a Butterfly Club to educate the children (and adults!) about the importance of pollinators, and more specifically the importance of supporting the monarch butterfly population. As most of us have heard, monarch numbers are decreasing due to habitat loss and fragmentation combined with pesticide use on lawns and farms. But, at the Park Forest library, there have been many more monarchs this year than last year! The Butterfly Club raised two monarchs last year. This year they have released 11 so far, with more than 11 more caterpillars growing in the vivarium, built by Coveside Conservation Products and donated by the Kiwanis Club. Victoria said most of the monarchs this year have been collected from the new pollinator garden, which has a combination of two milkweed species, bee balm, purple coneflower, gayfeather, Joe-Pye weed, phlox, great blue lobelia, and cardinal flower. In addition to monarchs, the club raised five generations of Black Swallowtail butterflies last year, and have begun to raise some this year as well. The swallowtails particularly like the parsley, dill, and fennel in the herb garden.
When I asked Victoria about starting this project last year, she said finding the eggs and successfully raising the caterpillars was the hardest part. But luckily there is plenty of support if you are interested in doing this in your community or in your own backyard! Kay MacNeil, the Butterfly Chairman for the Garden Clubs of Illinois, is a vocal advocate for monarchs and for growing pollinator-friendly gardens. She has a fantastic, in-depth video on you tube, in which she describes all of the steps of planting a monarch-friendly garden and raising monarchs, with many helpful tips to make your experience more successful. Victoria also recruited the help of the University of Illinois Extension office with planting for Black Swallowtails, and the Field Museum’s Keller Action Center to visit the site and identify and count milkweed on the property. Victoria also has the cooperation of the Village of Park Forest and the library in keeping native milkweed wherever it grows.
I hope Victoria and her Butterfly Club can be an inspiration to more folks wanting to make a difference in their own communities!