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Helping Monarch Butterflies, One Hatch & Release at a time

The garden of Bernardsville by Kathleen Palmer is filled with azaleas, tiger lilies, hydrangeas, Susans with black eyes and Japanese red maple trees. But it is the common milkweed that attracts Palmer's favorite guests, the monarch butterflies that visit every year.

The well-kept jungle of Palmer serves as a retreat for the summer for the winged insects on their northern migration. Since 2006, the garden has been a registered interim station Monarch Watch, an organization that is committed to ensuring a future for monarchs in the event of loss of habitat. (Include other waypoints in New Jersey Duke Farms in Hillsborough.)

"I want to make people aware of the fate of the monarchs and all pollinators," says Palmer, 74.

Palmer did not plant the crowns that princes princes; it just jumped up. She considers the way in which nature tells her to continue her youth efforts to attract butterflies. "I never know when the first one is coming," says Palmer. "For me it is a very exciting time to see one or find an egg."

The mother kings arrive in the garden of Palmer and lay their microscopic white eggs at the bottom of the leaves of milkweed. Palmer moves the eggs indoors and feeds them with milkweed and nectar from plants through their metamorphosis from caterpillar to pupa (when they develop wings) to mature butterfly. The process runs from late spring to early autumn, when Palmer releases the adults back into the wild.

In addition to habitat loss, monarchs are threatened by natural predators, including ladybirds, duckweed beetles and locusts, all of whom enjoy eating monarchy eggs. Praying mantis, although beneficial in keeping mosquitoes away from Palmer's garden, also feast on monarch eggs, but also on caterpillars and adult butterfly bodies. (Strangely enough they have an aversion to butterfly wings.)

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Palmer keeps detailed records of the princes she provides, including their gender, which she determines on the basis of a pattern on their wings. Before being released, she carefully labels the insects for future tracking. In 2017, Palmer raised, tagged and released 195 butterflies. Her helpers include her husband, generous and former Bernardsville mayor Peter Palmer.

Butterflies are not the only interests of Palmer. She is the owner of the nearby Studio 7 Fine Art Gallery, where she shows paintings of art glass, bronze and jewelery from dozens of artists, mainly from New Jersey. She also donates to the Raptor Trust in Millington and helps build butterfly gardens for other residents and organizations in Jersey.

It is not to say how many butterflies will attract any garden.

"You never know how much you'll get," she explains. "This is all about keeping our world, our environment, for future generations."

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