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Butterfly Sanctuaries:

Harnessing Butterfly Power

by Lois Weber
Palm Harbor, Florida

   The Florida Federation of Garden Clubs (FFGC) has hit on a brilliant strategy for encouraging people, businesses, and institutions to develop their properties into butterfly-friendly, educational "sanctuaries": The FFGC issues Butterfly Sanctuary Certificates to applicants who agree to follow certain guidelines. Inspired by the idea of having a certificate and informed by the guidelines, people transform their gardens and nurseries into havens not only for wildlife, but for the people who visit them and discover the healing power of butterflies.

   For a garden or nursery to be certified as a Butterfly Sanctuary, its caretakers must send in three or four pictures and a description of the property, including a list of caterpillar host plants, nectar plants, and the butterflies that may be expected to be seen there. They promise to do two things: to refrain from using harmful chemicals (by not spraying pesticides, one nursery is saving $91 a month!) and to use the sanctuary as a place to educate the public about the importance of butterflies in nature. Sanctuaries must be open to the public. They run educational programs and often give away plants. (The FFGC also issues "Backyard Butterfly Garden" certificates to private gardens that follow specified guidelines.)

The Butterfly Sanctuary Certificate bestowed by the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs upon property owners who agree to refrain from using pesticides and to use their gardens to educate the public about butterflies and butterfly gardening. The FFGC also issues "Backyard Butterfly Garden" certificates to private gardens.

   Thirty-five schools in District VIII have been certified as Butterfly Sanctuaries. At these schools, the miracle of butterfly metamorphosis has inspired students who are emotionally handicapped, "at risk", or developmentally delayed, as well as thousands of others. Even hard-to-interest students have found themselves reading about butterflies, writing about butterflies, and planting to attract butterflies. Sixty-seven other certifi-cates have been issued to individuals, parks, condo grounds, mobile homes, a restaurant, a church, a library, a museum, a nursing home, and a prison. Rehab hospital therapists find their butterfly garden to be a wonderful tool for working with children and adults alike. The North Tampa Garden Club was asked to help with a garden for abused children. Retirement homes also encourage butterfly gardens, places which may be visited even by those in wheel chairs.

   Butterfly gardens provide therapy and joy for all ages. One three-year-old girl whose mother raises butterflies taught her preschool class about the butterfly life cycle. A Boy Scout planted a garden to become an Eagle Scout. Girl Scouts planted gardens and gave programs for their Silver Award. 81- and 89-year-old Garden Club members are proud of their gardens and help with programs. An eight-year-old is our youngest Butterfly Sanctuary certificate holder she did a program for her class each year, for the Nature Club at the Tarpon Library, for the Boy's Club, and for the Dunedin Garden Club.

   Butterfly Sanctuary programs really help to spread the word about butterflies. Can you imagine a library displaying eleven species of butterflies in all stages of development for an entire week? When the library's summer program on butterflies was advertised in the county library schedule, five hundred people came for the two programs "under the oaks" in Craig Park, Tarpon Springs. When a restaurant with a butterfly garden advertised a butterfly program with lunch, people came from fifty miles around.

The painted fence around the author's Butterfly Sanctuary shows more than 18 typical butterflies. The fence captures the interest of many passersby who stop to inquire. The fence also draws in butterflies -- a Monarch once tried to lay eggs on the painted milkweed with real milkweed growing below.

   As the word spreads, more and more people want to jump on board. Members of the Garden Club of Tarpon Springs have planted and registered 28 butterfly gardens. Palm Harbor totals 24, so far. Garden Clubs have attracted new members and new junior gardeners thanks to butterflies plant sales featuring caterpillar host plants have been especially fruitful.

   Students at Tarpon Elementary School not only planted for birds and butterflies at their school, but planted and continue to maintain wildflower/butterfly gardens in two county parks. The Pinellas Trail planting involved all 700 students, teachers, Garden Club members, parents, the police force, and the mayor! When we tend these gardens we meet butterfly enthusiasts from many states and countries. It is not unusual for someone to follow me home to see caterpillars and a greater variety of host plants.

   The 4th of July Butterfly Count had many teachers participating, and nine schools were represented! Butterfly paintings are beginning to bedeck the schools, helping students to recognize the most common butterfly species. Through gardening projects and classroom demonstrations, students have learned the importance of planting caterpillar host plants. Sutherland Elementary's media specialist allows teachers to check out caterpillars, host plants, and cages for their classrooms. *

   Lois Weber is a "retired" elementary school teacher who continues to play an active role in educating through her work as the FFGC State Chairperson for Schools & Backyard Gardening and as the FFGC Butterfly Chairperson for her district. She is also the owner of a certified Butterfly Sanctuary (see photo).

30 Dec 1997 / Main Page