By Elizabeth Winchester
Monarch butterflies leave Canada and the northern United States every fall, migrating thousands of miles to Mexico. On the evening of September 9, Sea Cliffers of all ages made their own migration, but much closer. They flocked to Marden Triangle to celebrate the opening of the new Butterfly Garden there.
“This is a very special place in Sea Cliff,” said Susan Giordano, of Susan Giordano Designs, who designed the garden and enlisted the help of landscaper and mason Billy Laderer to build it. “What I am most joyful about this evening is to finally see life in this park.”
The celebration included music by cellist Josh Epstein, butterfly wings for the kids to wear as they fluttered about, and delicious refreshments. In addition to Giordano, other leaders instrumental in initiating, planning, planting and sustaining the garden—including Sea Cliff trustees Robin Maynard and Dina Epstein, mayor Bruce Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dan Fagin, and Henriette Rohl—addressed the crowd.
“This is really a great accomplishment,” said Kennedy, who explained that most of the money for the park came from private fundraising as opposed to tax dollars, and that the idea for it came from the discovery of milkweed growing at Sea Cliff Beach. Milkweed is the plant on which female monarch butterflies lay their eggs. Caterpillars eat milkweed leaves. A way to help the monarchs, whose numbers are in decline, is to create areas such as the Butterfly Garden, where milkweed and nectar-producing flowers can grow.
Kennedy noted that the passion of the Environmental Conservation Commission, led by Epstein, and other park supporters, helped make the project possible. The committee took up the project as a way “to preserve butterflies and bees…and to beautify our park,” Epstein explained, but credited Giordano for helping the park take wing. The Flutterby Foundation, Inc. seeks to continue the garden design by adding a similar one on the opposite end of the park, create other gardens with the same purpose, and to work with schools on teaching kids about the monarch and how to protect it. Efforts to expand the garden or to create additional gardens will rely on private donations.
The monarch makes the longest two-way migration by far of any butterfly, traveling as far as 2,000 miles from southern Canada all the way to a few mountainsides in south-central Mexico, where tens of millions congregate for the winter. Then in the spring the same butterflies move north as far as Texas and Oklahoma, laying their eggs on milkweed along the way. The next generation usually reaches Long Island in June or July. After another two generations, the monarchs are ready to move south again in September.
“It’s an amazing natural phenomenon,” said Fagin, a science journalism professor at New York University who is currently writing a book about monarchs. “The monarchs are great navigators, and somehow they know how to return to the same Mexican hillsides where their great-great grandparents spent the winter. But this unique migration is very much in danger; the monarch population has fallen by almost two-thirds over the last dozen years, mostly because of the disappearance of milkweeds. We can all do our part to help monarchs—and bees and other butterfly species, too—by planting pollinator gardens," Fagin said. Gardeners who want to try it themselves can visit monarchwatch.org for ideas, or can consult the Flutterby Foundation's Facebook page for a list of local plants butterflies love.
Fagin noted that Sea Cliff’s new butterfly garden has been registered with Monarch Watch as an official monarch waystation, which is a place that provides monarchs with what they need to survive and continue their migration. Giordano hopes that many monarchs will visit the park on their journey, as well Sea Cliffers now and for generations to come. With that, Kennedy and Sea Cliff children joyfully released monarchs into the air.
Learn more about the foundation at flutterbyseacliff.org, and on Facebook @flutterbyfoundation.
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