Where My Front Yard Meets Our Big Back Yard

A bit about butterflies and marital bliss, and an invitation to learn more tonight with the Friends of the Monarch Trail.

My wife, Kathy, and I some years ago hit upon a happy coincidence. She loves raising butterflies, and I love raising plants.

More specifically, even though Kathy loves raising any butterflies, she is particularly fond of working with everybody's favorite, the monarch. And I, much more specifically, am passionate about raising not just any plants but rare native plants.

Since monarch butterflies lay their eggs only on plants of the milkweed family, and since several Wisconsin milkweeds are among our rarest and most beautiful plant species, this amounted to an invitation to me to fill our front yard with my favorites, in order to attract hers.

And so to the point. This column, Wild Wauwatosa, is intended to remind readers that our community is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty and wonder that is worth appreciating and protecting. But there are also ways to bring Wild Wauwatosa to you, whether it is by hanging a birdfeeder or, in my case, planting a butterfly garden.

Kathy and I now have 13 species of milkweed growing in our yard, a number of them uncommon in the wild, two of them endangered in Wisconsin. Those two, purple milkweed and Sullivant's milkweed, also happen to be in my opinion the most beautiful flowering plants that grow in these parts.

Milkweeds happen to be not just the only food plants for monarch caterpillars, they are just about the most favorite nectar-producing plants for hosts of different butterflies and bees.

I could stop here and say, "So, you should all plant butterfly gardens with plenty of milkweed and make the world a happy, flappy place." But in fact, I do have a larger point yet.

Any naturalist will tell you that while it's neat to see a rare bird at a feeder or to harbor a rare plant in a garden, the experience does not compare to spotting that bird or plant out in the wild, in its native habitat. It is reassuring to know that they are still with us without relying on us.

To that end, I would invite anyone with an interest in nature and its phenomena to join the Friends of the Monarch Trail at 6 p.m. this evening in the parking lot of the , 9480 W Watertown Plank Rd., to learn about wildlife habitat restoration work going on and planned for the future on the County Grounds.

The Northeast Quadrant of the County Grounds was once home to the largest expanse of wild-growing milkweed in Milwaukee County, but most of it was destroyed when the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District built two huge detention basins there, totaling nearly 100 acres, and spread the excavated soil over another 100 acres.

One tiny untouched corner of the Grounds, near the old Eschweiler Buildings, is a truly special place where clouds of migrating monarchs gather each fall to roost together overnight in the trees.

Tonight will feature a presentation about what is being done to preserve those roosting trees and to restore wildlife-friendly vegetation to the regraded County Grounds, a good deal of which is now designated Milwaukee County parkland – "Our Big Back Yard."

The Friends will also be having a milkweed sale at 2 p.m. July 17, so if your interest is piqued, you can start planning now where to put your butterfly garden.

Editor's note: Eddee Daniel is on vacation. He will return to write Wild Wauwatosa.


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