Monarchs gather on a flowering plant (learnaboutnature.com). Plants that attract these butterflies are being planted by Suzanne McDonald at the Westwood Family Resource Center. Photo submitted

Monarch butterfly garden planted at Westwood resource center

This past winter Suzanne McDonald decided to plant a butterfly garden. The idea was triggered by an ad from a conservation organization asking for funds to start a Monarch butterfly garden.

“I thought I could use that money to start my own Monarch butterfly garden,” she said.

The concept continued to consume her thoughts throughout the winter months. For a list of native plants known to attract butterflies, she contacted Kirsten Bovee, a botanist with the United States Forest Service who works at the Almanor Ranger Station in Chester. For a garden site, she contacted Nicole Young, director of the Westwood Family Resource Center. She had been part of a community garden there several years ago and knew there was a fenced in area that might be available. The resource center is part of the One Stop located at 463-975 Birch Street.

“I thought that a public place could also allow my garden to be a demonstration garden. That is, show people what kinds of native plants are needed by our local butterflies,” said McDonald.

She said there used to be billions of Monarch butterflies migrating to the Michoacan Highlands in central Mexico each winter from all parts of the United States. About 90 percent of the population has been destroyed. Modern Society has encroached on the Monarch’s habitat. Butterflies have been killed by pesticides along with the unwanted insects. Also milkweed is being eradicated, which is the caterpillar’s food. When the Monarch leaves its winter habitat and flies north it seeks milkweed plants on which to lay its eggs.

Selecting the right plants for the garden is vitally important, according to McDonald. When people learned the Monarch caterpillar ate only native milkweed they began to plant it, but it was tropical milkweed. Some butterflies stayed on the tropical milkweed altering their ancient migration pattern. Also this milkweed developed a parasite that eventually kills the butterfly. The native milkweed that thrives in the Westwood area are Narrowleaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) and Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciose).

The adult Monarch feeds on many ornamental and flowering plants that do well in Westwood’s climate and provide food for different types of butterflies. This includes Sulphur Buckwheat, flowering sage and currant. McDonald purchased native plants for the garden at the Native Floral Nursery located on Meridian Street in Chico.

“I began planting in June and hope to have at least half of the garden space planted and landscaped this summer,” said McDonald.

She envisions the garden as a place to rest, meditate and watch butterflies. There are many species that inhabit this region. These include the Swallowtail, Skipper, Mourning Cloak and Painted Lady to name just a few.

“I learned that we had so many different kinds of butterflies from a book by Laurence Crabtree called “Discovering the Butterflies of Lassen Volcanic National Park,” said McDonald.

Although McDonald is doing most of the planning and planting of the garden, she has had some help from Peggy Fulder, Eddie Egyed and Jim McSpadden. She would welcome the donation of some simple benches and water features.

Once the plants mature, McDonald would like the garden to be used as an outdoor classroom for students to learn about butterflies, insects and native plants. Also she hopes it will inspire homeowners and municipalities to plant native milkweed in their gardens.

“More native milkweed is necessary for the Monarch butterfly to continue having healthy populations. Since so many natural plots of native milkweed have been cut down, it is necessary to make an extra effort to allow this plant to grow,” said McDonald.