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Gardener Aaron Dickau holds a milkweed leaf supporting a monarch caterpillar.Gardener Aaron Dickau holds a milkweed leaf supporting a monarch caterpillar in a garden bed outside the Leddy Library West Building.

Butterflies making use of dedicated breeding ground

A garden bed outside the Leddy Library West Building is producing more than greenery—it is a breeding ground for monarch butterflies.

Earlier this year, gardener Aaron Dickau added a planting of pollinator food sources adjacent to the Stewart Moore Carolinian Garden, which hosts many native species. One day this month, he spotted a number of monarch caterpillars munching on the milkweed.

“There were six or 10 caterpillars on those plants,” says Dickau, a trained horticulturalist. “I’m so excited to see it working just like it’s supposed to.”

Monarch butterflies lay their eggs only on milkweed plants, which are their sole food source during the larval stage of their development. The gardens south of the Leddy West feature two species of milkweed: common milkweed Asclepias syriaca and butterfly milkweed Asclepias tuberosa.

Dickau says the iconic butterflies, with their distinctive orange, black and white colouring, are well-known for their beauty and their long annual migration to over-winter in Mexico.

“The monarch is kind of a symbol in this area, for sure,” he says. “I’m happy that we have a spot for them.”

In addition to the butterflies, the variety of native plants supports other pollinator insects, like honeybees.

It’s a welcome sight for librarian Jennifer Soutter, whose office overlooks the Stewart Moore garden, which is registered as an official habitat with the Monarch Watch waystation program.

“There is so much life in there,” Soutter says. “You really get an appreciation for what is possible even in a small space.”