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Milkweed Along the Greenway

Fred Camarillo didn’t set out to be the butterfly man. He picked up the moniker one day while giving a presentation to students at Spring ISD.

“All of a sudden, a kid yelled out, ‘it's the butterfly man!’ It wasn’t my favorite name at first,” he said. “But, if that’s what it takes to make a difference, I’ll be the butterfly man.” The name is fitting. As president of the Spring Creek Education Society, Camarillo now spends his free time advocating for the dwindling monarch butterfly population.

“Hundreds of thousands of butterflies migrate to Mexico every year,” said Camarillo. “The Spring Creek Education Society is working to make sure they have a place to stay along the way.” The statistics are troubling. Every year, fewer butterflies complete the migration cycle from the United States and Canada into Mexico and California. Several generations of butterflies hatch and mature during this process. Monarch Watch reports the three lowest overwintering populations in Mexico on record have been documented in the last 10 years. Summer breeding grounds are also being lost at a rate of 2.2 million acres per year, the organization reports.

To combat the decline, Monarch Watch created the Monarch Waystation Program in 2005. So far, individuals, schools, and organizations have created more than 5,000 certified monarch waystations in home gardens, schoolyards, parks, and commercial landscaping. In 2014, the Spring Creek Education Society opened Dennis Johnston Park’s first monarch waystation in what was formerly an empty ditch. Dubbed the Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden, the waystation required more than 300 volunteer hours to build.

“No one knew if the garden would survive considering that area was prone to flooding,” said Camarillo. The nonprofit got its answer in 2016 after the garden survived two devastating floods. When 75 percent of the plants bounced back on their own, Camarillo knew the project was a success.

Now, the organization has a more ambitious plan to simultaneously create a butterfly habitat along the 40-mile Spring Creek Greenway and stabilize the creek banks. Since milkweed is the monarch’s primary food source, Camarillo needed a type of milkweed hardy enough to survive frequent flooding.

“Zizotes milkweed have a 15-foot taproot that will anchor the plant to the ground and prevent erosion during floods,” he said. “They also tolerate the high soil PH level, which is common along the banks of Spring Creek.” So far the organization has 290 zizotes, 60 of which are being planted near the Dennis Johnston Park Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden, while the others will be distributed along the Spring Creek Greenway.

 To accomplish this goal, Camarillo has teamed up with Mercer Arborist Laura Carlton. “It’s a win-win situation,” he said. "Laura Carlton is currently in the process of planting trees along the Greenway. Our goal is to go with Laura to plant native milkweed in the same locations.” One of Camarillo’s biggest challenges is funding. With milkweed priced at $5 per seed, Camarillo hopes the society can grow their own milkweed one day and harvest the seeds to make the project more sustainable.

 “Once our greenhouse is up and running, we can begin producing our own native plants,” he said. “Our goal is to raise awareness about how these plants can improve drainage channels while also creating a butterfly habitat on formerly unused land.” For more information about the Spring Creek Education Society, visit https://springcreekeducationsociety.wordpress.com/about/.



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