Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

June 09, 1999

Bringing back the butterflies

The University of Guelph is helping nature provide habitat for Ontario's monarch butterflies.

At U of G's College d'Alfred in Eastern Ontario, researcher Pierre-Alain Blais is working with volunteers to establish a garden to attract monarch butterflies. It will be modelled after the outdoor Butterfly, Moth and Hummingbird Garden at the University's 400-acre Arboretum in Guelph, which has been helping boost the butterfly population for more than a decade.

Located in the Gosling Wildlife Gardens in the Arboretum, the butterfly garden contains violets, sedum, bergamot, thistles, butterfly bush, and even milkweed and stinging nettle. The garden includes a pond and is arranged to provide colour, nectar, light and shade, water and wind protection -- all important to butterflies.

"A wide variety of different species visit the garden throughout the summer months: monarchs, red admirals, black swallowtails. Adult butterflies are attracted to the colourful nectar plants," said Chris Earley, the Arboretum's interpretive naturalist. The garden also includes larval food plants that provide food for caterpillars. Each species tends to have its own group of suitable plants, for example, red admiral caterpillars like nettles, fritillaries eat violets and black swallowtails prefer dill, parsley and Queen Anne's lace, he said. The garden also attracts hummingbirds, dragonflies, bees, other insects and frogs.

The butterfly garden is one of a series of wildlife gardens that are specifically designed to show people how to create similar settings at home, a concept researchers at College d'Alfred hope to follow. Blais is encouraging public and private gardeners, as well as schools across Prescott and Russell counties, to establish butterfly gardens. College d'Alfred's garden will contain flowering plants with lots of nectar and larval food plants.

Earley said that people are naturally drawn to butterflies. "It is nice to have them zipping around in the garden and kids really respond to them," he said. "And knowing that monarchs migrate, that they make a trek all the way to Mexico, is incredible."

Monarchs have been placed on Canada's list of vulnerable species, a situation that could worsen if their wintering ground in Mexico continues to diminish. Monarch butterfly caterpillars primarily feed on milkweed, a plant that can be a potential nuisance for farmers. A single monarch caterpillar can defoliate a number of milkweed plants that would otherwise have to be eliminated by hand or herbicides. However, with milkweed listed as a noxious weeds, the monarch's main food supply has dwindled.

Did you know.....

In addition to the Butterfly, Moth and Hummingbird Garden, the Gosling Wildlife Gardens include other four gardens designed as urban and suburban backyards:

-- Lawn: Represents the typical backyard, including a lawn and small trees. It is intended to contrast the other gardens and encourage home owners to develop alternative yards.

-- Prairie Garden: Includes diverse prairie plants that can thrive in the poor soils of Southern Ontario suburbs. These include butterfly weed, big bluestem grass and tall coreopsis.

-- Suburban Garden: Designed to show that wildlife landscaping can be carried out in a suburban area. Includes a stone pile, small forest and a vegetable garden.

-- Small City Garden: A small-scale synthesis of the themes of other gardens.

Contacts: Chris Earley, (519) 824-4120 Ext. 2201; Pierre-Alain Blais, (613) 679-2218

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120 Ext. 3338

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