Monday, June 9, 2014

World Environment Day at Chicago Botanic Gardens

Saturday I attended Wold Environment Day at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

butterfly milkweed
The event was free to those entering the park and there was much to do and see all over the place.  I came home with two plants (a butterfly milk weed and a white cherry tomato) in addition to a wealth of information for my gardens. Mine won't bloom until next season, but here is a milk weed I caught in the wild last summer.

Evaluation gardens outside the Plant Science Center
I went because I was invited to attend the lecture given by Scott Hoffman Black of the Xerces Society.

He was speaking on preserving Monarch Butterfly habitat -- The Monarch Butterfly: How You Can Help Save this Iconic Species 

Scott Hoffman Black is the executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.  He gave his presentation in the central hall of the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center on the east side of the Botanic Garden.  

You can see the gorgeous photographs he showed as part of his lecture.  And he shared a great number of facts, the most striking is that just a few years ago there were a billion Monarchs in North America and now there are only about 33 million.  That is a near 70% drop.  We should worry about this because it says much about habitat destruction, pesticide over-use and many other cultural realities of today.

His talk detailed how Monarchs travel from as far north as Ontario to winter over in Mexico a trek of almost 3,000 miles, then come back to the Midwest, taking two generations of butterflies to make it back to Illinois.  That means the butterflies that travel to Mexico each year, have never been there before, yet find their way... How extraordinary!

I love monarchs.  My sister used to grow milk weed and we were a fly over spot on the migration south where I grew up in Ohio, so I have had them in my life and gardens for a very long time.  Once they laid eggs on the milk weed, which grew into caterpillars that have the greatest stripes.  We even got to witness the butterfly emerging, when my father brought a crystalis indoors so we could watch the transformation into a butterfly.  We then released it back into the wild.  It was one of those great nature experiences I still recall fondly.  It probably cemented my love of Monarchs.

My take away from the lecture was unlike so many other endangered species activities we may engage in, this one is a species in my backyard and my backyard can help this species continue to thrive.  Planting butterfly nectar flowers and providing milkweed for breeding and food for caterpillars is something that is simple and easy to do.  And in the process I can help bees and other pollinating insects as well.  If you want more details I recommend checking out the website for the Xerces Society (Named after the first butterfly species in the US to go extinct!)  There is even a seed finder for companies that have milkweed seed in your area.

The overall theme of World Environment Day was actually the world in your backyard.  There were many places where I picked up on this message.  I learned about a volunteer program to identify native species and collect stats on their growth situation and habitat dangers.  I also learned about earthworms, mushrooms, and bees.  I even spoke with a bee keeper.
Over in the Herb and Vegetable Garden was this great display on DIY Herbs De Provence with sample plants!

I will admit that I went to the Botanic Gardens strictly for the lecture.  If I had not wanted to see the Walled English Garden before the July heat, I might not have walked to the other side of the park that day, but the weather was perfect and the Botanic Garden was beautiful and I just could not help myself.

view toward the Japanese garden that day
I was never so glad I made the effort.  They had several booths set up in different locations.  Corporate sponsors, local garden clubs and the Horticulturalists from the staff.  That was the best part.  They had booths on specific subjects to start a conversation, but you could ask them just about anything.  I figured out what to do about  nutritional issues in my community garden plot, discussed heirloom tomatoes, learned about native butterfly attracting flowers I can get locally and grow in my garden and I even got some seed bombs of local prairie plants to plant as well.

All in all it was a wonderful experience and I would recommend it next year, it should again be around the first weekend of June.  Until then I suggest the other great events they have coming up.  These will surely be as much fun!
             Garden Chef Series (every weekend until well into October)
             Herb Garden Weekend  - July 26 & 27 - how can I miss this!
             Heirloom Tomato weekend - August 24 & 25 - I need to know how mine stack up!
             Farmers Markets - first and third Sunday of the month once the local growing season gets going!

So let's go visit the Chicago Botanic Garden this summer!  I'll see you there.

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