Butterflies are an important part of the food chain and are indicators of a healthy environment and healthy ecosystems. Unfortunately, Monarch butterfly populations are still on the decline. One estimate puts monarch butterfly loss at over 90 percent over the past two decades. Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on the leaves of milkweed, the only host plant for this iconic butterfly species. As such, milkweed is critical for the survival of monarchs. Without it, they cannot complete their life cycle and their populations decline. Eradication of milkweed both in agricultural areas as well as in urban and suburban landscapes is one of the primary reasons that monarchs are in trouble today.
Butterfly-Friendly Gardens in Thousand Oaks
The City promotes the propagation of Monarch butterflies in several areas in our community. There are a number of milkweed plants at the City’s Municipal Service Center in Newbury Park that are host plants for Monarch and Gulf Fritillary butterflies. Near the bottom of the bridge between City Hall and The Lakes parking lot, there is a large patch of native milkweed with a sign within the patch of milkweed that identifies it as “Monarch Butterfly Native Habitat”. The park area on the east side of City Hall also features a water conservation garden with butterfly-friendly plants including one called “Butterfly Bush”.
The City is currently working with the Audubon Society to install a native garden at Heritage Park on Thousand Oaks Boulevard that will focus on plants beneficial to birds and butterflies. There is a large native garden called “The True Colors Garden and Learning Center” in front of the Goebel Senior Adult Center in Thousand Oaks. The garden, which was planted and is cared for by Master Gardeners, contains butterfly friendly plants including Lavender, Lupins and Alyssum.
Using funds donated by the City’s Community Enhancement Grant program, ArtTrek in Newbury Park planted drought tolerant plants, including milkweed, in front of the studio. Art Trek teachers recently observed the caterpillar-to-butterfly phenomenon taking place and were able to utilize this live transformation to educate the students. A chrysalis was spotted hanging from the leaf of a potted plant outside the studio, while both a caterpillar and a Monarch butterfly were seen on other nearby milkweed branches.
Finally, Sycamore Canyon School has a Monarch Watch registered and a certified official Monarch Waystation. The garden is officially a Certified Wildlife Habitat with the National Wildlife Federation, which makes them a partner in their Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. The butterflies here thrive on the milkweed throughout the garden. The garden was created to fulfill several educational objectives. Besides learning about the butterfly and milkweed cycle fulfilling the nature and science curriculum, Mrs. Smith’s 6th Grade class has native narrow leaf Milkweed seeds available for sale to the public, and proceeds go toward the school garden. Through the butterfly seeds, the class also learns about fundraising and various aspects of business, including marketing and distribution. The locally sourced seeds sold by the class contain no pesticides, which is crucial for butterfly health. This narrow leaf native seed variety is difficult to find at local stores. The packages include 10 seeds for $1.
How to Grow a Butterfly Garden
The best time to plant milkweed is in the fall, after a good rain. The seeds should be planted in full sun. It is advised by the National Wildlife Federation to not plant the non-native “Tropical Milkweed” variety. To find out more about why planting the wrong milkweed variety may be counterproductive to helping the butterflies proliferate, as well as how to purchase the narrow leaf milkweed from Mrs. Smith’s class, click here.
For more resources about incorporating milkweed and other butterfly-friendly plants into your home garden, see the links below.
Sycamore Canyon School blog: Helping the Monarch Butterflies Here in Conejo Valley
National Wildlife Federation – Butterfly General Information
National Wildlife Federation – Build a Butterfly Habitat
Milkweed information and resources: http://www.nwf.org/Pollinators/Monarch/Milkweed-Resources.aspx
Getting Kids involved in building a butterfly habitat: