Support for Monarch Butterfly Is Blooming Around Town

Vikki Caines poses by a towering joe pye weed in front of the Recreation Office.Princeton, NJ, August, 2018
For Princeton Recreation Team Member Vikki Caines, a lifelong love of gardening began, rather intrinsically, from her family roots in Trinidad and Tobago. Now, as a 20-year employee of the Recreation Department, a 34-year resident of Princeton, and a Master Gardener, Vikki is patiently creating thriving flower beds around the Princeton Recreation facilities, one plot at a time. Vikki's work has done so much to not only beautify the town, but also provide crucial pollination habitats for bees and butterflies.

This includes development of Marchand Meadows, named in honor of former Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand and located next to the Recreation Department offices, as well as the beds in front of the Princeton Recreation Department office, flower pots within Community Park Pool, and plantings in the pool parking lot. Each of these areas were planted, and are still maintained by Vikki and her dedicated crew. I live here and work here and just wanted to do something meaningful for my town, says Vikki.

Visits from the Monarch Migration

Carefully tended without the use of pesticides, these flower beds are vital for numerous butterflies, including the Monarch butterfly. Beset by disturbing population declines, the Monarch is known for its bright orange and black pattern as well as its massive migration - over 2,000 miles from Canada to Mexico in late summer and early fall. Along the way, some of these delicate creatures will stop in New Jersey, and pollination stations like the ones Vikki has designed provide crucial nectar for the weary travelers.

Support from the Mayor

That's why Princeton's Mayor, Liz Lempert, continues to support the National Wildlife Federation's Mayors' Monarch Pledge. Through the pledge, communities within the U.S. each commit to develop habitat for the monarch and other pollinators, while educating citizens on how they can do this within their yards. The monarch is truly a treasure from the natural world, stated Mayor Lempert. Princeton benefits from these beautiful pollinators, and it's important that we do our part to ensure we are providing habitat necessary for their survival.

Monarch Habitat

Indeed, there is a surprising amount of activity within Princeton supporting this species. The Greater Mountain Lakes Open Space Area, including Tusculum Meadows, contains approximately 10 acres of milkweed, the host plant for monarch caterpillars. More recently, Greenway Meadows Park has also added about two acres of monarch habitat, with continued plans to expand. 

In addition, volunteers collaborating with Friends of Princeton Open Space (FOPOS) and the Contemporary Garden Club of Princeton collect milkweed seeds from the municipal garden and spread them throughout the community, including Mountain Lakes, the Princeton Day School and the Riverside Elementary School gardens.

Elementary School Studies

Furthermore, at each of Princeton's four elementary schools, 2nd grade students study insect life cycles, and explore how monarchs and milkweed work together with other plants and bugs in the larger ecosystem. Every school has one or more pollinator beds from which to expand these lessons, and some classes have gone so far as to tag monarch butterflies for a citizen science research project. Finally, the Princeton Environmental Commission (PEC) works annually to update progress on the pledge and drafted Princeton's Green Development Checklist which suggests the use of native species like milkweed to provide food/shelter for birds, animals and insects.

Purchase Milkweed & Other Seedlings

To purchase milkweed and other native seedlings, the public is invited to visit D and R Greenway's Native Plant Nursery at One Preservation Place in Princeton. Upcoming plant sales are held from 3 - 5 pm on the following Fridays: August 3, 17 and 24. This fall, D&R Greenway will also host additional plant sales on Friday, October 12, 3 to 6 pm and Saturday, October 13, 9 am to noon.

By bringing such beautiful plants in your yard, encourages Mayor Lempert, you too can help ensure this unique butterfly can be enjoyed by generations to come.