The Monarch population has rapidly declined in the last 10 years and naturalists are urging people to plant more milkweed and pesticide free nectar plants, which comprise a butterfly waystation. Former president of the Kentucky Garden Association Joanna Kirby calls the Monarch the 'canary in the coal mine' indicating a problem in the environment. She speaks with Kate Lochte on Sounds Good about her monarch waystation efforts and the dedication of three in Paducah and Mayfield this weekend.
The concept for monarch waystations came through the University of Kansas monarchwatch.org project. Kirby describes waystations as a 'butterfly bed and breakfast' that supplies the host plant milkweed (on which they lay eggs) then adding nearby nectar plants (on which they feed) which will attract the butterflies. They'll lay hundreds of eggs at a time, not all on the same plant, but will look for other milkweed nearby. Kirby recommends different varieties of milkweed, adding that there are five or six native to Kentucky. Add ten milkweed plants in total - these can be scattered around the yard, farm or community - monarchs will fly around looking for them.
As president of the Garden Club of Kentucky, Kirby took on the project of expanding monarch waystations from 36 in 2013 to 250 as of June 2015. She partnered with a native plant organization and took the message to rotaries, schools, book clubs, local garden clubs, etc. Working with Kentucky State Parks, she helped certify five across the Commonwealth with 10 more coming soon. She hopes to reach all of the state parks eventually and says most are very interested in planning and planting a monarch waystation.
"I like to say that the monarch is the canary in the coal mine," Kirby says. Coal miners would bring a canary into a coal mine and if it got sick or died the miners wouldn't go in. “The monarch represents our environment," she says. "The plight of the Monarch where they are declining is telling us something’s not right in our environment, something is not here that they depended on, what could that be?” Kirby says it’s the lack of milkweed. She says if you look at a USDA map of the US we have less than 2% of prairie lands left and that is where milkweed tends to grow. She says we are losing 6,000 acres a day of natural habitat to urban sprawl and crops that are pesticide resistant. She asks gardeners and homeowners to help by planting milkweed and using fewer chemicals.
Kirby encourages gardeners to make monarch waystations in their yards with window boxes or planters. Each person can establish an area where monarchs can come back to the milkweed, she says. They feed on the nectar of plants and lay eggs in the milkweed. Caterpillars eat the milkweed leaves, they turn into chrysalis and then the next generation of butterfly. She says gardeners can help and help make others aware of what's happening to the environment, namely when it comes to spraying chemicals on leaves.
Joanna Kirby is past president of Kentucky Garden Clubs and continues her work with the National Garden Club President's Special Project for Monarch Watch and Monarch Waystations. She's in our region this week for waystation dedications tomorrow. Laurel Oak Garden Club's Kess Creek Park's ceremony is at 11 in Mayfield. There's a ceremony in Buddenbaum House Garden at 1:15 in Paducah, followed by one at Open Gate Garden Club's Barkley Regional Airport Viewing Garden.