Okies for Monarchs

okies for monarchs

We pass thousands of insects each day without notice, but butterflies are different. We notice. Whether a butterfly lands on a nearby flower or drifts past our windshield during traffic, our eye is drawn to its graceful movement.

Probably the most eye-catching butterfly in Oklahoma is the monarch. Each fall, masses of black and orange monarchs head south through the Midwest—the most mysterious migration on earth. Scientists are still trying to unlock the secrets of how four generations of this species travels from Canada to Mexico and back each year. In the spring, the offspring of the fall monarchs meander back through Oklahoma on their way North. The migration is less obvious, but they still need places to eat and rest during their journey.

Thanks to recent awareness campaigns, Oklahomans are increasingly alarmed at the decline in monarch butterflies. They aren’t just beautiful, they are major crop pollinators! Over forty organizations have teamed up to form the Oklahoma Monarch and Pollinator Collaborative, called “Okies for Monarchs.”

The goal of Okies for Monarchs is to encourage the planting of monarch-friendly plants along the migration route. Oklahoma cities are taking the initiative to plant wildflowers along highways and replace native trees and flowers after major construction projects. Businesses are getting involved, too. Oklahoma-based Hideaway Pizza created a custom “pollinator pizza” drizzled with honey. The pizza is available until May 14, with proceeds going to help monarchs. Concerned citizens are learning more about planting butterfly-friendly gardens by visiting sites such as the Myriad Botanical Garden or the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden.

Some of the greatest advocates for butterflies are school children. Washington Irving Elementary in Edmond is one of the many schools that maintains a butterfly garden. Mrs. Cheryl Coffelt Kern and her late husband started the garden in the late 1990s when the school was brand new and the playground was red dirt. Now, 20 years later, the school has a large garden filled with pollinator plants and trees. It is maintained by select fifth graders. They call themselves the Watching Outdoor Wonders (WOW) club.

“This year, we have 18 WOW kids who’ve committed to take care of the garden all year,” Mrs. Kern said. “They learn all about planting, garden maintenance, and how to attract butterflies.”

Each season brings new lessons. Spring is for planting and summer is for watering. Fall is monarch migration, and during the winter, the students focus on fundraising activities for the garden. The WOW students also take their skills to other grades, helping younger students learn to plant flowers and bulbs.

“Each fall is an annual family picnic where the students give garden tours and teach the grown-ups what it’s all about,” said Mrs. Kern. “We also talk to the neighborhood families who stop by to visit the garden or walk the school’s trails while we’re working.”

Like all butterfly enthusiasts, Mrs. Kern is hopeful that more people will start taking the simple steps to keep monarchs and other butterflies thriving: select butterfly-friendly nursery plants, plant them in the sun, and place multiples together so that the butterflies can see the mass of flower color from above. Most importantly for monarchs, plant milkweed species—the plants upon which the monarch lays eggs.

“Butterflies are extremely important to nature since they pollinate so many plants,” said Everett Daugherty, a former WOW student who continues to volunteer with Mrs. Kern each year. “Not only are they fascinating to study, they are so beautiful and interesting. People can help butterflies just by planting herbs like dill, fennel or parsley. It’s beneficial for you and for the butterflies.”

“I’ve had some magical moments happen in our garden,” Mrs. Kern said. “I’m happy that it’s impacted a lot of young people who’ve gone through here at Washington Irving—and I’m pleased that they are spreading the news about helping monarchs.”

To learn more, visit okiesformonarchs.org

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