By Cathriona Fey
BAPA Community Outreach Liaison
Over the last two decades, the eastern monarch butterfly has experienced a more than 80% decrease in population. This orange and black-winged species, the Illinois state insect, contributes to the pollination of plants throughout the Prairie State. The migratory and overwintering habitats needed to promote monarch breeding are disappearing, and the drastic drop in population has sparked urgent conservation efforts to save the monarchs. In response, BAPA has joined the Illinois Monarch Project, a state-wide initiative to conserve the breeding and feeding habitat of the monarch butterfly and other regional pollinators.
Illinois lies directly along the migration flyway of eastern monarch butterfly populations migrating to the high-altitude forests of Central Mexico for the winter. Along the way, monarchs search for the ideal habitat with milkweed and other nectar plants to refuel and to lay eggs.
Illinois has experienced an extreme loss of the prairie habitat due to changes in land-use practices, pesticide and herbicide use, and climate change, leaving migrating monarchs limited options for breeding and sustenance. To mitigate these changes, the Illinois Monarch Project set a goal of adding 150 million new milkweed stems and other nectar resources to the Illinois landscape by 2038. BAPA hopes to make the Beverly/Morgan Park community home to many of these new milkweed stems to support the monarchs and other pollinator species.
Planning is underway for Save the Monarchs, a BAPA initiative that will bring residents, schools, businesses and churches together to conserve the monarch butterfly population while sustainably enhancing our community’s landscape. The goals of Save the Monarchs are to build awareness about the region’s declining monarch population and the importance of protecting the species; to create community spaces that welcome and protect the monarch butterfly and other pollinators; and to increase the monarch butterfly population here. BAPA believes the integration of various milkweed species and other native nectar plants will enhance our neighborhood’s landscape while welcoming more monarchs to our Village in the City.
Winter is a great time to begin planning your butterfly habitat. Whether you create a simple window box of plants or allocate a portion of your yard to native plants, BAPA wants to hear about it and quantify our community’s efforts. Join BAPA’s Save the Monarchs Facebook group to receive program updates, tips and ideas, to ask local experts questions, and to share plans and pictures of your butterfly habitat.
The Monarch Watch organization provides the following list of things to keep in mind as you create your own butterfly habitat:
Size: A pollinator habitat can be easily integrated with an existing vegetable or flower garden. There is no minimum area requirement; small is okay.
Exposure: Butterflies and butterfly plants need lots of sun, so locate pollinator gardens in an area that receives at least six hours of sun a day.
Drainage and Soil: Milkweeds and nectar plants do best in relatively light (low-clay) soils with good drainage. Because most city soil is compacted and has too much clay or sand, amend your soil with compost before planting.
Shelter: All monarch life stages need shelter from predators and the elements. To assure that the maximum number of monarchs survive in your habitat, plants should be relatively close together but not crowded, Follow the planting guides specific to each plant.
Milkweed: To maximize the utilization of your habitat by monarchs, include a number of milkweed species.
Nectar Plants: Butterflies and pollinators need nectar. Provide nectar plants that bloom sequentially or continuously throughout the monarch breeding season and the migration in the fall. Aim for a mix of annual, biennial and perennial plants that provide nectar.
Management: Keep your habitat healthy by mulching, thinning, fertilizing, amending the soil, removing dead stalks, watering, eliminating insecticide use, removing invasive plant species, and incorporating additional features.
Great examples of local monarch conservation efforts can already be locally at the Kellogg school garden to the Edna White Community Garden. A large elaborate garden isn’t necessary to make a difference. According to Kathy Figel, the Executive Director of the Edna White Garden, 1850 S. Monterey Ave., “It can be as simple as not using any sprays or chemicals on your lawn, planting many natives and choosing to wait to clean up leaves and stems which serve as a habitat for many insect species.”
Figel and the Edna White Community Garden will serve as valuable resources as Save the Monarchs kicks-off. Local resources include plant experts at City Grange, 1818 W 99th St., and Steuber Florist, 2654 W. 111th St.
To join and stay up to date with BAPA’s Save the Monarchs initiative, be sure to join the Facebook group or sign-up for BAPA’s e-newsletter at www.bapa.org. Let’s make 2021 the year of the butterfly!