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Duluth group creates more monarch habitat

"Plant a little and they will come." That's the unofficial motto for Monarch Buddies -- Duluth's group of butterfly boosters -- the organization works to grow available habitat for the iconic insect by planting milkweed. "Folks of my age can reme...

Duluthian Dan Schutte, owner of Shoreview Natives, digs a hole for native plants in a pollinator garden on the Lakewalk near 26th Avenue East in Duluth. The garden is a new monarch butterfly habitat way station. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com
Duluthian Dan Schutte, owner of Shoreview Natives, digs a hole for native plants in a pollinator garden on the Lakewalk near 26th Avenue East in Duluth. The garden is a new monarch butterfly habitat way station. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com
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"Plant a little and they will come."

That's the unofficial motto for Monarch Buddies - Duluth's group of butterfly boosters - the organization works to grow available habitat for the iconic insect by planting milkweed.

"Folks of my age can remember these huge migrations and seeing so many monarchs around," said Tom Ueckre, president of Monarch Buddies. "Most of those folks say 'I just don't see that many anymore,' so we're trying to help get more monarch habitat out there."

Milkweed is the only plant monarchs will lay eggs on. That's because it's the only plant with leaves the caterpillars will eat. While the group spends the whole summer planting, volunteers were out in force Tuesday working on a new monarch waystation - a garden designated for monarch butterflies and other pollinators.

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Located at 26th Avenue East and London Road, the garden will occupy a peninsula of soil adjacent to the Lakewalk. It will host three kinds of milkweed, as well as other native flowers that feed pollinators.

"Mid-July projects are great," said Dan Schutte. "By August, there's going to be a lot of flowers in here. And then next year, it's going to go bonkers."

Schutte runs Shoreview Natives, the group assisting with developing the waystation. He said it'll take about two years of maintenance after the plants are in the ground. But after that, it'll take little work to keep up.

"I'm already seeing monarch caterpillars on milkweed up here. By mid-September, it will be able to support monarch larvae," said Schutte.

The Center for Biological Diversity reports the monarch population has fallen by as much as 80 percent since surveys measuring the insect's numbers began in 1993.

"There's some things going on these days with pollinators," said Schutte. "A lot of these things are in serious crisis mode. Pollinators in general supply one out of every three bites of food you're taking in on a daily basis so this is an ecological big deal."

The Monarch Watch is a program run out of the University of Kansas. Their guidelines for building a waystation include planting a couple types of milkweed, having other flowers that produce nectre for other pollinators and not using any pesticides.

To help stabilize the monarch butterfly population decline, the Monarch Buddies have been working for more than four years to plant habitat for the insect. So far, more than 100 members have helped plant 50 waystations. And they serve another purpose, too.

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"Native plant installations are a really great hub for community development, economic stuff and water quality protection and erosion control," said Schutte. "It just all happens right here."

The roots will hold soil in place, the added greenspace will add to the neighborhood aesthetic and it's less land the city has to actively manage over the summer.

"People tell me, 'Every morning I walk out with my cup of coffee and I look at those plants,' and it starts their day off right," said Schutte. "I think that's going to start happening in this neighborhood."

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