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Butterflies take flight with urban reintroduction program
Grad student’s initiative lures pollinators to city core
Published Wednesday, May 20, 2015 8:30 pm
by Herbert L. White


Druid Hills resident Darryl Gaston credits increased planting of flowers in the neighborhood for sparking the return of butterflies and other pollinating insects to the community.

Butterflies are back in Darryl Gaston’s yard.

Monarchs, long missing from his Druid Hills neighborhood, are attracted to flowers planted last month as part of the Butterfly Highway, a project launched by UNC Charlotte graduate student Angelique Hjarding. The program monitors butterflies and other natural pollinators to increase biological diversity in underserved communities.

It brings back childhood memories for Gaston, who had an emotional attachment to the butterflies.

“When I heard about it, (the project) made me think of times when I visited my grandparents here in the city who would have these beautiful flower beds who were inclusive of a flower called the zinnia,” he said. “That particular type of flower attracted all kinds of butterflies. I grew up fascinated with butterflies and I was very interested in talking with Angel to hear about what her program was all about.”

Butterflies are early adopters to the flowers, but they won’t be alone. Other insects will follow, which expands ecological diversity and pollinates fruits and vegetables.

“The idea is to literally create a highway for butterflies and other pollinators into our urban neighborhoods,” said Hjarding, a doctoral candidate and conservational biologist. “There’s been a lot of talk on greening and re-greening our urban areas, but I want to take it one step further and not just re-green but re-flower.”

In addition to Druid Hills, six other neighborhoods are on the Butterfly Highway: Enderly Park, Northwood Estates, Washington Heights, Graham Heights, University Park, Smallwood. Gardens have been planted in parks or open space as well as neighbors’ gardens and residents participate in a monthly census of butterflies and bees.

Working with UNCC’s botanical garden, Hjarding offers a list of drought-tolerant flowers for planting. Residents have their choices, with one exception for Monarchs, a threatened species that migrates to Mexico annually.

“I require milkweed, since it is really important to the Monarch butterfly,” she said. “It’s the only plant they will lay their eggs on, the caterpillars will eat and they will turn into a butterfly from.”

“There are butterflies already in the neighborhoods,” she said. “My guess is it’ll take at least a year to start to see some effect of planting these gardens. Most of the plants should grow and flower this year…so the residents who are participating can get some sort of instant gratification instead of just putting a couple of seeds in the ground.”

Gaston is already seeing the benefits. More Monarchs flit about his flowerbed, and he makes a point of counting them for the monthly census. After years of barren ecosystems, life is coming back to Druid Hills.

“At one point in time, even the birds had gone away,” he said. “You didn’t see the beautiful birds or Monarch butterflies. I think the lack of seeing God’s beauty in terms of butterflies and birds it did something for me because I was exposed to flowers, trees, butterflies and when you have plants, you create a sense of place as well as create a sense of place for pollinators.”

On the Net:



What a wonderful project for a deserving butterfly and community.
Posted on May 22, 2015
I love flowers and this article
I intended to plant a butterfly garden this year and increase flowers that will do well in this climate. Thanks for the article
Posted on May 21, 2015

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