2016-06-02 / From The Garden

Goldenrod to the Rescue, Help Save the Monarchs


Monarch nectaring on goldenrod. Monarch nectaring on goldenrod. Botanist Hope Leeson will speak on Rhode Island’s native plants at the Newport Maritime Center (Ann Street Pier on Thames Street) on Sunday, June 5.

Leeson will also mentor URI Master Gardeners and volunteers from Friends of the Waterfront as they plant the newest Harbor Walk dinghy at the maritime center.

Monarch butterflies are in trouble here in Rhode Island and all along the East Coast. When given a preference for their southern journey, they save energy by gliding along the sea breezes from New England southward and then cutting over to Mexico.

For the long migration, they need high quality nectar from other shoreline plants. Their food of choice has traditionally been the seaside goldenrod, along with a few other fall-blooming native species including swamp milkweed, New England aster, and purple-headed sneezeweed.

Due to beach erosion and waterfront development, the available nectar from their favorite plants for coastal-migrating has been drastically reduced. Rhode Island monarchs are now forced to fly inland in search of nectar, which makes them use more energy at a time when they have little to spare.

“It’s all about the environment,” says Friends of the Waterfront President Johanna Vietry. “Climate change is something Friends of the Waterfront is acutely aware of as sea levels rise. Here onshore, the butterfly habitats are disappearing and these beautiful insects have nowhere to rest, eat and in so doing, pollinate. We aim to give them a little help and at the same time, create pocket parks where kids can come and see butterflies in action.”

The city plans to place a bench near the planter to encourage visitors to stop and enjoy the view overlooking the Ann Street Pier.

Professor Leeson is an expert on Rhode Island’s unique environment and its plants, with nearly 30 years of field experience. She is a coordinator of the Rhody Native Plant initiative and has consulted with nearly every environmental organization in the state, including the Department of Environmental Services, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Wild Plant Society.

As volunteers plant on June 5, Leeson will talk on why these plants were chosen and why pollinators, including butterflies, bees, birds and moths might be attracted to the plants.

Interested gardeners who wish to help plant and maintain the planter are welcome to attend this event, from 10 a.m.-noon, as is the general public. Extra plants will be distributed to those who would like to create a butterfly garden at home.

For more information on the dinghy project or the Sunday event, email Johanna Vietry at info@newportwaterfront.org or visit newportwaterfront.org.

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