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Butterflies Stop Here!

NCC becomes an official monarch waystation

by Cynthia Tintorri,

A tagged monarch butterflyNorthampton Community College's East 40 Community Garden recently received designation as a Monarch Butterfly Waystation from monarchwatch.org, a nationwide effort by the University of Kansas to mitigate a drastic decline in the species. 

NCC Associate Professor of Biology Karen Klein has been hatching, tagging and releasing monarchs for several years with students in her ecology classes. This past October, students tagged and released 46 butterflies into the skies over the East 40. 

Klein was visiting the monarchwatch.org site when she saw that anyone with the right habitat components could apply to be a designated waystation -- a spot for monarchs to find nectar and lay eggs during their annual migration. "We have everything necessary right here. I thought, 'Why not?'" Klein says. 

Habitat components include plenty of monarch-attracting milkweed -- the plant upon which the butterflies lay their eggs and the hatched larvae feed -- and nectar-bearing flowers such as Indian blanket, purple coneflower, scarlet sage, Mexican sunflower, zinnia and dahlia. As part of their coursework, Klein's ecology students monitor the abundance and density of the East 40's milkweed. 

Decline in the monarch population is directly linked to a decline in milkweed and flower habitat, due to development and the widespread use of herbicides in croplands, pastures and roadsides. Monarch waystations provide the resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration. Without milkweed, monarchs would not be able to produce the successive generations that culminate in the migration each fall. And without nectar from flowers, the fall migratory monarch butterflies would be unable to make their long journey to overwintering grounds in Mexico.Milkweed (in the upper left of the raised bed) in Shirley Daluisio's community garden plot

Thanks to Klein's application, NCC became an official, certified waystation (#15367, if you want to look it up) on November 18, 2016. The size is listed as "colossal," which means over 5,000 square feet of monarch-friendly habitat. 

Although Klein and her students are the butterfly whisperers, she is quick to point out that she owes the habitat portion of the monarch magic to fellow naturalist, East 40 Community Garden coordinator and NCC Associate Professor of English Kelly Allen. "He makes the milkweed and all the flowers possible." 

"I am the Johnny Appleseed of milkweed here in the East 40," Allen laughingly agrees. "Our very first community gardener, Shirley Daluisio, asked several years ago if she could plant milkweed in her plot, for the butterflies. When that milkweed went to seed, I gathered up all the fluff and broadcast it all over the East 40. Now there's milkweed everywhere!" 

Allen has also been instrumental in increasing the plant and animal diversity in the East 40. "When we first started out here, all the grass was being mowed and treated with weed-and-feed. As soon as we stopped that, the clover came back, and then fall asters, and Queen Anne's lace ... Now there are all kinds of wildflowers out here. It's amazing to see what native plants will pop up," Allen says. 

Klein will be watching the East 40 for monarchs around mid-June, on their return journey from Mexico. And in the fall, when students return, she'll guide them as they hatch, tag and release a new generation of the regal species. 

If you'd like to learn more about monarch conservation efforts -- or even start a monarch waystation in your own garden! -- visit monarchwatch.org for more information and seed kits .