After discovering the wonders of monarch butterflies at Ulistac Natural Area in Santa Clara, volunteers Janay and Kurt Harvey spread their own wings.
Believing that if you build it, they will come, they built a 4-foot by 10-foot raised, dirt bed in their small Sunnyvale backyard. They planted native California nectar plants for the butterflies and, in pots, milkweed — the only plant that monarch caterpillars eat.
And then they waited for the first monarch butterflies to arrive and lay their eggs — white pinhead dots that hatch in three days — on the underside of the native milkweed leaves. That was in 2015, about five years and many monarchs ago.
Now, on a beautiful, sunny fall Sunday in their backyard, the Harveys discovered that two monarchs had just that day emerged from their chrysalises. They were ready to spread their wings.
It was a complete metamorphosis — from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to stunning, orange and black monarch butterfly.
“Butterflies are not just cute and pretty. They’re an amazing cycle of life,” said Janay Harvey.
To protect developing butterflies from predators such as wasps, the Harveys move the host milkweed pots into sanitized, mesh enclosures.
Janay Harvey gently removed a butterfly from its enclosure and set it carefully on her wrist. In an instant, the butterfly flew up, away and into a tree in a neighbor’s yard. From there, it would probably head to the coast of California to overwinter.
Since August, the Harveys have tended, tagged to track for research and released 42 monarchs. They are passionate about preventing further decline of the monarchs.
“We’ve gone from millions of western monarchs in the late 90s to about 30,000 at last count,” said Kurt Harvey.
Loss of habitat and milkweed plants and use of pesticides and herbicides all threaten monarch survival.
“We’re destroying their system,” said Kurt Harvey. “We don’t want to stand by idly and watch a species crash.”
Ulistac Natural Area Inspires Volunteers
“Our understanding of native California plants for pollinating and milkweed is directly connected to our volunteering at Ulistac,” said Janay Harvey. “It was a turning point for us, followed by self-teaching.”
The couple are lead volunteers at Ulistac, which has its own butterfly garden. Lead volunteer Erica Fleniken has photographed more than 15 different species of butterflies at Ulistac, 4901 Lick Mill Blvd., Santa Clara.
“The lead volunteers are people with a passion for something that has drawn them to Ulistac,” said Ulistac spokesperson Karen Campbell. “Several enjoy researching and learning.”
The first native milkweed patch at Ulistac was planted around 2012 – 2013.
“Unfortunately, it got slightly neglected while we were concentrating on other tasks, and it was looking a bit sad until Kurt and Janay turned up,” said Campbell.
“They have spent many hours improving and extending the initial milkweed patch….They have also really helped to draw our focus back to helping these beautiful butterflies.”
Western Monarch Migration
Western monarchs (those living west of the Rockies) migrate from Canada and the northwestern states. They stopover in the Bay Area enroute to wintering locations along the California coast.
“Monarch butterflies are our passion now,” said Kurt Harvey. “Doing this makes us feel connected to the earth and all its creatures.”
To save the monarchs, plant native California nectar plants and native milkweed such as Narrow Leaf Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis). The Harveys find native plants in nurseries such as Capitol Wholesale Nursery, Central Wholesale Nursery and Our City Forest in San Jose
“Creatures of the earth need a voice. They need us to take care of them,” said Janay Harvey. “Who will speak for them if we don’t?”