Monarch butterflies making their way south for the winter have a new haven in Charleston.
Members of the Kanawha Garden Club are hoping the 160 milkweed plants near the entrance of the Sunrise Carriage Trail, planted this spring, will foster the endangered species as it begins to migrate each fall.
“A lot of people don’t realize that butterflies need two types of plants. One for nectar, one for host. The milkweed is the only host,” said Sarah Hoblitzell, a member of the garden club who organized the project. “We wanted to provide the habitat because they can’t migrate without milkweed. They can get their nectar from all sorts of other sources — but they’ve got to have a host plant for laying eggs.”
The group planted three types of milkweed earlier this spring at the end of the Justice Row parking area, creating a monarch nursery garden.
Milkweed is the only type of plant a “baby monarch caterpillar larva will eat,” Hoblitzell said. However, milkweed continues to decline because of development and the use of herbicides.
Monarchs are the only butterfly known to migrate south for the winter. Butterflies in the eastern part of North America migrate south for the winter months — some traveling as far south as Mexico.
Monarchs from the western portion of the continent migrate to California each winter.
Because West Virginia is directly along the migration route, Hoblitzell said the garden club wanted to do something to benefit the endangered butterfly species and help its population grow.
“There has been a special focus on monarchs because of their declining population and the loss of habitat,” she said. “We wanted this to be an educational project.”
Hoblitzell and half a dozen others gathered Friday morning to celebrate and install a new informational sign, designating the space as a monarch nursery garden.
The weatherproof sign, which is now posted at the front of the nursery garden, provides information about monarchs, a brief overview of the importance of milkweed and photos of the life cycle of the monarch.
Anna Forbes, a local photographer and a member of the garden club, took the photos of monarchs that are featured on the sign. Forbes documented each stage of the life cycle, including the caterpillar, the butterfly emerging from its chrysalis and the final monarch butterfly.
The sign was designed and installed by Terry Hackney, owner of the Fort Ashby-based Lens Creek Studios.
The garden has also been recognized as an official Monarch Waystation by the Monarch Waystation Program. The program aims to create, conserve and protect monarch habitats by encouraging those who live near the migration routes to create milkweed nursery gardens.
Mary Stanley, a member of the Charleston Land Trust who also helped organize the project, said she hopes members of the community can appreciate the monarch garden, while also understanding the importance of protecting the butterfly species.
“First of all, they’re just beautiful. They kind of lift your heart when you see them. But I also think they’re an indicator of how we can unwittingly harm our environment and the species with which we live,” she said. “Monarch butterflies are so amazing in this life cycle. ... It’s just a fascinating animal.”
The new sign and nursery garden are at the end of the Justice Row parking area near the entrance of the Carriage Trail.
For more information about the trail, visit carriagetrail.org.