Attention, monarch butterflies! New MCC rooftop garden awaits you

At the grand opening of the Milkweed for Monarchs Garden, Juan Alarcon and Shannon Johnson work together to put a native plant into the ground. (Photos by Tim Engle/MCC)

Monarch butterflies aren’t known to be interested in higher education, but the orange-and-black beauties would be a welcome sight at Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley just the same.

A new native-plant garden was officially unveiled July 19 on the roof of the Education Center near 31st Street and Pennsylvania. The star of the garden: milkweed, a plant that monarchs love and rely on for survival.

“We’re introducing new plants and animals” to the campus, MCC-Penn Valley biology instructor and division chair Nancy Harrington said at the grand opening ceremony as butterfly balloons fluttered nearby.

A special guest — yes, a monarch butterfly — was expected to make an appearance and be released into the garden, but Harrington reported that a Penn Valley biologist who raises monarchs wasn’t able to catch it.

Much of the garden had already been planted, but students and employees put in some new plants at the grand opening. They didn’t even have to get their hands dirty — Home Depot provided gloves and trowels.

The garden — on the roof of the MCC-Penn Valley Education Center — overlooks 31st Street and offers a view of the downtown skyline.

A count of monarchs earlier this year confirmed that numbers of America’s best-known butterfly fell 27 percent from last year’s count, indicating “an ongoing risk of extinction,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity. This year’s dramatic decline is due partly to winter storms that killed millions of monarchs last year in Mexico. Still, the current number of monarchs is down more than 80 percent from the mid-1990s.

MCC’s Milkweed for Monarchs Garden is an effort to sustain and grow the monarch population.

Botanist Pat Woolley

Harrington said there’s been great enthusiasm for the garden project, which in turn will enhance three more e’s: education, ecology and enjoyment. “We can use it for teaching purposes,” agreed adjunct botany instructor Pat Woolley, whom Harrington credits with getting the ball rolling on the garden two years ago.

Woolley purchased or collected most of the plants and was reimbursed by MCC. Facilities employee Jimmie Painter, an avid gardener, also obtained a truckload of donated plants from Westlake Ace Hardware. MCC groundsman Darren Lockhart tilled and prepared the garden and planted much of it.

All the native plants in the new garden will “attract insects to strengthen the entire flora and fauna ecosystem,” Harrington said.

At the grand opening, Woolley mentioned a large adjacent garden plot that in just a year’s time has become filled with sumac. That, he pointed out, is thanks to birds that have spread the seeds.

Photo gallery on MCC-Penn Valley’s Facebook page

KCTV5’s coverage of the garden opening
More about monarchs

Monarchs are dependent on milkweed plants. The butterflies typically lay their eggs on milkweed, which larvae eat almost exclusively.

As for the shortage of milkweed, that can be blamed on herbicides. According to the Center for Biological Diversity:

>>The butterfly’s dramatic decline has been driven in large part by the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops. The vast majority of U.S. corn and soybeans are genetically engineered for resistance to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, a potent killer of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s only food. The dramatic surge in the use of Roundup and other herbicides with the same active ingredient (glyphosate) on Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in the Midwest’s corn and soybean fields.<<

Butterflies — like bees, which are also in grave danger — help pollinate plants, making them a vital contributor to crop growth and food production. Monarchs migrate each winter, traveling by the millions to California and Mexico. North American monarchs are the only butterflies that make such a massive journey — up to 3,000 miles.

Poster design by Judi Sprenz, administrative assistant, MCC-Penn Valley Science, Math and Engineering Division (click to view larger)