Our Pollinator Garden is a big focus of The Gardens at Lake Merritt. While there are many beautiful formal themed gardens ringing the garden space, the center of the garden holds a big area for a wild and crazy pollinator garden. Our park supervisor Tora Rocha founded The Pollinator Posse a few years back, and it has taken flight with local and national attention! Watch for our big presence at the upcoming San Francisco Flower and Garden Show.
With concern for the alarming declines in the population of the Monarch butterfly in particular, we plant native and a little tropical milkweed as habitat for the butterflies, their eggs and caterpillars. We’ve consulted with the Xerces Society on our plantings, see link below.
Here’s the thing: habitat gardens are inherently messy! Seedlings are growing underfoot, so conventional weeding and mulching have to be handled with special care. The caterpillars chomp through the milkweed leaves – in a normal garden this would be an unsightly cause for alarm, but for us it’s a sign of success. If they eat here, they lay their eggs here and hatch here.
The first year of the Pollinator Posse project we had released just a few butterflies – six by our count. Two years ago there were about 300, and this year, thanks to our fostering program, we have released well over 600 butterflies into the garden in the last year. Each female lays about 1000 eggs, but not many survive to maturity.
And fostering – what is that anyway? We find lots of Monarch caterpillars in the garden now. To protect them from their many predators, we gather them, and volunteers take them home in mesh cages, feed them milkweed for a few weeks till they go into a beautiful lime green chrysalis, then wait patiently for the exciting emersion when the butterflies “eclose” from the chrysalis. We hope they will hang around our garden to lay their eggs.
Watch for workshops in the garden teaching families how to participate in this early science learning for kids. Here is a great link to info about our native Milkweeds: http://www.xerces.org/…/2011/10/CA-milkweed-guide_XercesSoc…