Milkweed for Monarchs

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Though the temperatures may not seem like it just yet, the blossoming trees and flowers have proven that spring has finally sprung! In addition to the beautiful buds and warming days, one of my favorite things about this time of year is the return of the delicate fluttering butterflies.

The Rose of Sharon that lines my back deck seems to be a favorite for the small Cabbage White butterflies. They dance around them all season. When my kids were younger, they had a fascination with yellow Tiger Swallowtails. They had learned to identify them by their extended tails at a local environmental center, and would squeal with delight and shout "Tiger Swallowtail! Tiger Swallowtail!" in their adorable toddler voices.

A few years ago, our whole family headed to Pyramid Mountain (472 Boonton Ave, Montville Twp.) for their Butterfly Bonanza event. It was an adorable introduction to butterflies and other pollinators through crafts, games, a bug safari, and even a monarch release. I was happy to see that this annual event is still going on. This year it will be Saturday, June 9, 2018, from 12-4pm. $4 for adults, $3 for kids ages 3+, and free for age 2 and under. For more information, click here.

I also saw that the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center (247 Southern Blvd., Chatham) will hold a Magnificent Monarchs event to learn about monarchs as they prepare for their migration. It will be on Thursday, Aug 24 from 3-4pm. (preregistration required) $3 per person ages 3 and up. Click here for more information.

But, the beauty of nature is that you do not need to go to special events to enjoy it! It is around you all the time! And there are simple things you can do to attract butterflies to your own garden. An easy way is to plant special plants and flowers in your garden, but which types? The caterpillars of butterflies and moths are all specialist feeders to one degree or another, which means that they only eat one or a few specific types of plant. For monarch caterpillars, that means milkweed. There are no other plants that monarch caterpillars will eat! If there is no food for the caterpillars, we won't be able to enjoy seeing the beautiful butterflies flying around our neighborhoods. The population of monarchs is drastically reducing, so it is vital that milkweed is available for them to survive.

Want to get started on your butterfly garden right away? You are in luck! The Madison Environmental Commission is very pleased to make common milkweed seedlings free and available to the public during May Day on Saturday, May 5, 2018. They will be handing out a species of milkweed that has big globes of lavender flowers with a lovely fragrance, so you can enjoy the plants as well as their fluttering visitors! If you have questions about gardening for butterflies, bring them to May Day and a member of the Commission will be happy to help you find the answers you need. There will also be printed information you can take that describes how to care for your milkweed garden, and what you can plant alongside the milkweed to attract butterflies to your yard. Common milkweed spreads by underground runners. So, after a year or two, one little seedling will become a patch of milkweed. It's easy to grow, and the butterflies will thank you!

Imagine having your own patch of garden dancing with beautiful colorful monarchs all season long--and year after year since the variety they are giving out is a perennial species! Thanks to the Madison Environmental Commission you can! Stop by the Hartley Dodge building from 11am-1pm on Saturday, May 5, 2018 to pick up your free milkweed, plant it at home, and prepare for a beautiful view of happy monarchs!

For more information about Madison Environmental Commission, visit www.rosenet.org/396/Environmental-Commission

For more information about Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area (472 Boonton Ave, Montville Twp.), visit here.

For more information about Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center (247 Southern Blvd.), Chatham, visit here.