A faint but sweet smell hangs in the air near the driving range in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. It can be followed to a cluster of flower beds surrounding a community garden where vegetables and herbs grow.
A hummingbird and goldfinch fly close by the flowers. And now monarch butterflies are everywhere, drinking nectar, fluttering from plant to plant and resting on the grass.
Millions of monarchs pass through Chicago in the early weeks of September on their way south toward Michoacán, Mexico.
Now the Lakeview Community Garden in Diversey marks supermonarchs stopping in Chicago as part of their migration route.
“Supermonarchs are very different from monarchs from previous seasons as they are in sexual diapause; they’re not here to breed, they’re just feeding themselves,” said Lorraine Kells. Being in a non-reproductive state, these super monarchs are also physically larger.
And now they’re drinking nectar, Kells explained, “powering up to make the 3,000-mile journey down to the trees of Michoacan.”
Judith Kolar exclaimed, “I’ve got one! I’ve got one!” when she brought a net to Kells and Nancy Juda, who are both involved in the community garden. They got together last week to tag butterflies.
After carefully removing the monarch from the web, Kolar gently held her between her thumb and forefinger while Kells marked the disc cell of one of her hind wings with a small sticky circle.
“The tags give us an indication of the state of the migration and the number of migrations, which is very important,” Kells said.
Then Kolar positioned the butterfly on her hand and let it fly away.
“I love it,” she said with a smile.
She then sat down to record the butterfly’s information for Monarch Watch, which tracks the migration of monarch butterflies with the help of volunteers. Kolar also signed a handwritten card that Kells handed her that read, “I received (blank) fabulous Monarch tags” and asked about the tag series.
“I have to make sure my gardeners take responsibility for it,” said Kells, who has been a gardener since she was four and grew up “nourished by the taste of something fresh.” She worked with native plants in Chicago and California for about three decades.
“It is important to note that even if these tags are not recovered, the number of tags that went off with the butterflies is recorded. That data will be recorded,” added Kells.
The women’s group has tagged 10 butterflies so far as the process requires patience and care. They had a total of 25 tags to work with.
“But when you see everyone taking it so readily – it’s not hard to do – they embrace it so readily and they just enjoy it so much that next year we want to order more tags and have a wider reach of the.” community,” Kells said.
The community garden where the magic happens is made up of a few beds that aren’t all together. There’s a pollinator bed that’s primarily designed to attract bees and wasps – but it also attracts black swallowtail caterpillars.
There’s also a Monarch Waystation with at least three species of Spurge, and the Edge Garden, which grows vegetables, fruit, and herbs alongside a variety of flowers.
But it all started with two raised beds owned by the Chicago Park District that contained nothing more than a few saplings and cigarette butts, Kells said. The garden has been building momentum for about six years, she added.
And she’s spent the past few years encouraging others to get involved. The motto of the city of Chicago, she stressed, is “City in the Garden” — urbs in horto in Latin.
Almost anyone with access to a registered garden can provide a nectar space for migratory monarch butterflies or a monarch way station.
“Any neighborhood with a garden, a yard, a school group, a church garden, a school garden can do this type of work as long as they have the five necessary ingredients for the butterflies,” she said.
The first three criteria are finding an area of at least 100 square feet, making sure they get at least six hours of sun a day, and planting milkweed and flowers close together to provide shelter.
Additionally, planting at least 10 spurge plants of two or more species — Kells recommends native species — and plants that provide nectar is key to attracting monarchs.
With climate change and monarch habitats shrinking, experts expect their migration patterns will change as well. This is why habitat creation, support monarch conservation and tagging to track changes is so important at this moment.
The second monarch butterfly the women managed to catch on Wednesday held onto the net and would not let go. The group laughed and commented on the little creature’s strength.
“We are excited. We are very excited. It’s such a miracle to see the joy, the face of an adult who has just discovered something and experienced something that she has never felt in her life before,” Kells later said, “and just to touch one of these creatures, to mark it and know that day will work its way to Michoacan with a butterfly.
A Chicago female’s home-reared monarch butterfly makes it 2,000 miles away to central Mexico
2022 Chicago Tribune.
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