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Campus monarchs

Monarch butterfly on flower

The mysterious migration of the eastern monarch butterfly takes three generations to complete, from Mexico up the east coast and back again.

Along the way, their larvae need to fuel up on milkweed – a plant whose population is shrinking as development creeps outward.

That’s where Dennis Werner and Melissa Tinling come in.

Professor Emeritus Werner and graduate student Tinling – both in the Department of Horticultural Science – are building a network of pollinator gardens on campus to support the butterflies on their pilgrimage.

“One of the world’s wonders is all these delicate butterflies from across the east and midwest, all gathering in this one 12-acre site in Mexico,” Werner said. “It’s crucial that they have milkweed along this route.”

Monarch larvae feed exclusively on milkweed in the genus Asclepias, Werner said, so those will be a mainstay of the campus gardens. The first site is on Centennial Campus, down the street from Hunt Library. Werner calls it a “here, there and everywhere” garden: 25 species of low-maintenance perennial plants that will provide blossoms nearly year-round – a “symphony of color, texture and form.” That garden has already been planted as a partnership with Grounds Management, partially staffed by students from the undergraduate horticulture club and Pi Alpha Xi, the horticulture honors society.

A sister site is in the early planning stages by Melissa Tinling, a first-year master’s student in horticulture. Tinling and Werner hatched their ideas separately, but they have joined forces – he’s helping her finalize the grant application and serving on her approval committee.

In addition to helping pollinators, the gardens increase biodiversity and provide an educational opportunity, Tinling said. She envisions campuswide events connected to the gardens, and an interactive website.

“It’s a great thing for NC State to publicly commit to,” Tinling said. “It’s very important, considering the plight of pollinators in our country.”

– C. Kellner