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Butterfly Festival is about more than the Monarchs

Celebrate the monarchs, who nectar on many different types of pollinator plants, at the Monarch Butterfly Festival this Saturday, October 27. Photo by Mary Keim.

Celebrate the monarchs, who nectar on many different types of pollinator plants, at the Monarch Butterfly Festival this Saturday, October 27. Photo by Mary Keim.

Butterfly Festival is about more than the Monarchs

Guest Article for the Tallahassee Democrat

October 26, 2018, Release for the Tallahassee Democrat

Carole McKayBy Carole McKay

Just like many people who weathered the recent storm, nature is resilient. The St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge was inundated with eight to 10 feet of storm surge, leaving tons of debris, including a huge amount of plastic. With help from other National Parks, including Okefenokee, Savannah River, and Piedmont, it took close to a week of working non-stop to clear the road. Although the road was washed out in a few places, it has since been repaired. The surge made it up to east river pool, but all of the fresh water pools received a dose of saltwater. A few good rains will go a long way in fixing that issue. Although there was some damage to the lighthouse stairs and the handicapped ramp, the newly renovated keeper’s quarters made it through just fine.

The eagles and all three of their nests weathered Hurricane Michael just fine at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Carole McKay.

The eagles and all three of their nests weathered Hurricane Michael just fine at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Carole McKay.

When you come down this Saturday, October 27th, for the annual Monarch Butterfly Festival, you will probably notice that many of the plants are brown. The encroachment of saltwater took a toll on a number of freshwater plants.

But look closely, and you will notice new growth sprouting up from the ground. You will notice other native plants, such as the goldenrod (Solidago spp.) with leaves missing at the bottom, but the yellow plumage is flying high. Then there other plants like the Saltbush (Baccharis spp) – a favorite of male monarch butterflies – that are both fresh and saltwater tolerant, and they did just fine. Refuge personnel and volunteers have been unable to gain access to all the areas where the milkweeds are growing, but rest assured, there are still some standing. It is also important to note that although the monarch caterpillars need milkweed to survive, the butterflies themselves source nectar from many different pollinator plants.

The Vermilion flycatcher is just one of the migrating birds you can see this weekend at the Monarch Butterfly Festival in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Karen Willes.

The Vermilion flycatcher is just one of the migrating birds you can see this weekend at the Monarch Butterfly Festival in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Karen Willes.

The Festival, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, will have many exhibitors, including UF/IFAS Leon and Wakulla County Extension Master Gardeners. We will show you how the right plant in the right place can help you attract monarchs and many other pollinators to your yard. Other exhibitors include the Local Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA), who will be happy to show you some of the other magnificent butterflies you can see at the refuge this time of year. The Apalachee Audubon Society will be there with information on the many different species of birds you will see at the refuge and what a big role they play, not only at the refuge, but other habitats around this area as well. Local native plant societies, including Magnolia and Sarracenia, will be there to help explain what an important part native plants play in the refuge. Take time also to stop by and check out some of the great programs and activities going on at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, such as the Photo Club, among others, who will have a table. Find out how you can help support ongoing efforts at the refuge by joining the Friends of the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge. Find out what wonderful things are happening with the Monarch Milkweed Initiative.

Oh, the monarchs? At last check, there were a few down there, waiting for their friends to come in on the next cold front. Check out the Refuge website (www.fws.gov/refuge/st_marks) and their Facebook page for the most up-to-date information on the migration of these winged beauties. There are so many other species of butterflies, birds, and other wonders Mother Nature has in store for you at the refuge this weekend.

Make a day of it, because sometimes, we all need to take a break and come up for some fresh air.

Carole McKay is a Master Gardener with UF/IFAS Extension Leon County. For gardening questions, email the extension office at AskAMasterGardener@ifas.ufl.edu.