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Brigade helps butterfly awareness take flight in Rockwall

(ROCKWALL, TX — March 28, 2018) April showers bring May flowers and, thanks to the efforts of a group of local butterfly enthusiasts, beautiful butterflies.

Around 40 to 50 active volunteers with the group who call themselves the Butterfly Brigade have been hard at work transforming four areas in Rockwall into gorgeous butterfly gardens laden with milkweed, bluebonnets, larkspurs, snapdragons and other host plants.

“We try to have as many host plants as we can for the butterflies to lay their eggs,” said Mary Carter, who oversees her butterfly garden located in the Shores. “We’ve really studied what the butterfly likes to get its nectar from, and in our parks you will see the most nectar-producing plants that they really love.”

At the behest of former First Lady Laura Bush, Rockwall Mayor Jim Pruitt joined other mayors across North Texas and the U.S. in a Monarch Pledge in 2015. The movement is an effort to raise awareness and preserve the dying species of monarch butterflies, whose populations have decreased by 90 percent in the past 20 years. Since that time, the Butterfly Brigade has planted and maintained lush butterfly gardens in three different parks around Rockwall – the Shores Park, Northshore Park and Emerald Bay – plus an attractive meadow in The Park at Stone Creek. The parks bring several species of butterflies commonly seen in North Texas, including Queens, Swallowtails, Gulf Fritillaries, Buckeyes, Dainty Sulphurs and the renowned Monarchs.

“If you go to one of our beds in the late spring and the summer there’ll be lots of butterflies, as long as it’s sunny,” Carter said.

Butterfly Brigade members get the seeds for their gardens from Texas-based seed farms such as Wildseed Farms located in Fredericksburg and American Meadows in Junction. During their meetings, the members will often swap seeds and plants to use in their gardens. Carter said volunteers will make seed balls – seeds wrapped in soil materials such as a mixture of clay and compost – to cast out into the meadows.

“That way the birds don’t eat the seeds, and when the rain comes, your seeds will germinate. That’s what your hope is, anyway,” Carter said.

Butterfly garden at The Shores Park in Rockwall

The Butterfly Brigade aims to help preserve existing meadows and open grassland in the county which support the wildflowers and host plants essential to butterflies and another very important pollinator: honey bees. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bees pollinate 80 percent of our flowering crops, which constitute one-third of everything we eat. Crops such as apples, cantaloupe, asparagus, blueberries, and strawberries all benefit from bee pollination.

“We’re trying to save the bees and the butterflies,” Carter said.

During their planting sessions, Carter said families will often come out and bring their children to lend a helping hand to the volunteers tending the gardens. Carter said families are always so thankful for the volunteers who help the kids learn how to plant seeds.

“We love families, and we have a lot of children who come and help,” Carter said. “They are such a joy.”

Another goal of the Butterfly Brigade is to educate the public and even their own volunteer members about butterflies and the important role they play in pollination and cross pollination. During its Butterfly of the Month program, a Butterfly Brigade volunteer will pick a species of butterfly common to the region to study. The volunteer will go out to one of the gardens to photograph and observe the butterfly, draw up a report on it and share their findings with members of the group. Carter said she plans to put up educational signs at her garden in the Shores Park, showing pictures of butterflies and their life cycle.

“It’s all about education and getting this started in Rockwall,” Carter said.

Plans are in the works for a nature-oriented development known as the Pettinger Project, which will turn 26 acres of land near Squabble Creek into a wildlife nature preserve complete with nature trails, wildlife viewing stations, and a butterfly garden. The project is named after the property’s owners Wesley and Hedwig Pettinger, who dedicated the land (nearly $700,000 in value) to Rockwall Parks and Recreation for the strict purposes of leaving it as a preserve where people could come learn about nature and enjoy local wildlife. Rockwall Parks and Recreation partnered with Texas Parks and Wildlife and an urban biologist for Rockwall County to help inventory the wildlife found in the area through a free BioBlitz event held last year. To see the wildlife observed by the community during the event visit https://www.inaturalist.org/.

Rockwall Parks Director Andy Hesser said the property is forested and mostly flood plain, with a couple of meadows and a pond. For the project, Hesser said Parks and Recreation is asking for volunteers to help them cut trails and cultivate the existing meadows to attract pollinators and other desirable species to the area.

“It’s going to be a really neat project, the first of its kind in town that’s purely nature-oriented,” Hesser said. “Because of that land dedication and because of its intended use, it’s perfect for another butterfly garden expansion project.”

By Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News. Photos courtesy of the Rockwall Butterfly Brigade.

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