Local students fight back for Monarchs

Monarch butterflies are disappearing.

Fourth-grade students at Charlotte Preparatory School prepare Milkweed plants to be distributed throughout Charlotte.

Fourth-grade students at Charlotte Preparatory School prepare Milkweed plants to be distributed throughout Charlotte.

But one group of students from Charlotte Preparatory School has been working to save what Monarchs are left, and hopes to help the rest of the Charlotte community learn to save the Monarchs, too.

“We’re trying to help the Monarch butterflies,” said Janice Alexander, a fourth-grade science teacher who is helping lead the charge at the school. “We realized at the beginning of the school year the number of butterflies are
decreasing.”

After some research, Alexander’s fourth-graders found that Milkweed is the only plant Monarch butterflies will lay their eggs on and the only plant caterpillars will eat. Unfortunately, various factors, including the rapid loss of Milkweed plants, have contributed to the decline of the Monarchs. Using Milkweed plants located on Charlotte Preparatory’s own campus, the students picked seedpods, gathering about 5,000 to 6,000 seeds. The students had to cold stratify the seeds by keeping them wrapped up in refrigerators for about two months, Claire Miller, one of Alexander’s students said, before planting them earlier this year.

Now, the school has about 2,400 sprouts left of Milkweed that will soon be available to plant throughout Charlotte. They’ve already started contacting other schools that may be interested in planting Milkweed on their own campuses, and some schools, like the Jewish Preschool, have already committed to helping out.

Charlotte Preparatory School has had a butterfly garden of its own for several years now, Alexander said. The school also is recognized as a certified Monarch waystation, where they help raise Monarchs and tag them before the grand Monarch migration to Mexico in the fall, giving scientists better insight into Monarch migration patterns. Research in recent years has shown a decline in surviving Monarch butterflies, which coincides with the decrease in Milkweed plants, which are considered weeds by most and have been killed
off.

Now, the Monarchs are suffering.

“They are on the watch list of the endangered species list right now,” Claire said.

“It’s important to keep the balance of the ecosystem. Another thing that’s important about the Monarch is that we keep them in migration – keep all the generations going,” Alexander added.

“If the chain gets broken, the Monarchs would be extinct,” Claire said.

That’s what sparked the students’ interest in the first place, Alexander said. The work with Monarchs is not necessarily part of the fourth-grade curriculum, but is more of a year-long research project they do in addition to regular curriculum. The project has been student-driven from the start, Alexander said, as the student interest level was so high.

Now, the students are researching how to care for the plants – that information, along with some helpful background about the Monarchs, will be included with the Milkweed that will be donated around Charlotte.

“When I heard about the decreasing numbers, it made me feel bad,” Robbie Lenz, a fourth-grader at the school, said. “That’s why I’ve been helping, and it makes me feel good that I’m helping. I think we can make those numbers go back up.”

Alexander said the Milkweed plants will be ready in the next week or so to be distributed and planted. Schools, businesses or residents interesting in planting Milkweed can contact Charlotte Preparatory head of lower school Alan Lenz at alenz@charlotteprep.org.  

 

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2 Responses

  1. There are 10,000,000,000’s of milkweed plants growing across the eastern USA and Canada. So if students plant mere 1000’s or 10,000’s more plants it will not help grow the monarch population just like giving a gift of $50,000 to Bill Gates would not help increase his net worth (which is currently $77,000,000,000). So students and teachers should beware of letting commercial interests (dot org groups who make $100,000’s selling monarch products such as waystation certifications and signs, butterfly tags and so forth) leading them to believe they can increase the monarch population or “save the monarch from extinction.”

  2. ‘“They are on the watch list of the endangered species list right now,” Claire said.’

    Not true. What is endangered is the population that migrates from Mexico to Canada/northern USA and then back to Mexico.

    That said, I’m all for planting US native milkweed to help the population that is in trouble.

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