Students plant pollinator garden as habitat for monarch butterflies

by Kathleen Steele Gaivin
Third- and fourth-graders from Rushwood Elementary’s student leadership group gathered at Sagamore Hills Park on Sept. 28 to plant a pollinator garden to create a habitat for migrating monarch butterflies.

Sagamore Hills trustee John Zaccardelli and Fiscal Officer Laura Steimle coordinated with Daniel Bender, of engineering consulting firm Euthenics, and Rushwood teacher and student leadership advisor, Renee Piper, to have the students rework an existing raingarden in the park as a pollinator garden. Sandy Barbic, educational specialist at Summit Soil and Water Conservation District, educated the students on the ecological impact of their efforts.

The existing raingarden and rain barrel combination was the brainchild of former trustees Rosemary Snell and the late James Hunt in 2011, in order to catch and filter stormwater runoff from the roof of the restroom facility at the park. The raingarden will still function for that purpose, and with the addition of a new variety of native plants, it has the added value of being a pollinator garden for monarch butterflies, Bender said. Among the plant additions is milkweed, which will provide habitat and resting sites for the butterflies on their way to Mexico for hibernation.

The added native plants will increase the raingarden functionality, according to Barbic, as the long native plant roots absorb stormwater and filter out non-point source pollution. Milkweed is the only host plant for monarch butterflies, Barbic told the students, as they lay their eggs on milkweed and when the caterpillars hatch, the milkweed leaves provide nourishment.

The township, along with Summit Soil and Water, participated in a spring program earlier this year with Rushwood’s student leadership group to familiarize students with the importance of pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, and how to increase their declining populations.

At the fall event, each student received a packet of seeds and staked his or her area with their name to be able to identify their own seedlings when they return in the spring. After sprinkling their seeds, students scattered leaves over the garden to protect the seeds from birds and provide warmth to the soil during the winter months.

“It really was inspiring seeing the excitement the children showed to be able to participate in this garden event, and I’m sure will be even more excited when they return in May to be able to see the growth of their seeds,” said Steimle.

The Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative, a nonprofit working to improve and create pollinator habitats in Ohio, donated the seeds, and Sagamore Hills Township gave T-shirts to the students printed with the message “Be kind to pollinators.” The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife also provided “Milkweed for Monarchs” booklets for the students.

“I’m so impressed that all those parents came out with their children, too,” said Barbic. “It is inspiring to see the younger generation so excited about being outdoors, and I hope we can continue to foster that enthusiasm. It will probably be up to these youngsters to save the planet when they are older.” ∞

Rushwood students, their parents and the event coordinators stand in the gazebo at
Sagamore Hills Park after planting seeds. Photos by Kathleen Steele Gaivin.

Dan Bender holds John Zaccardelli as he
marks the planted seeds. Sandy Barbic (r)
supervises the planting.