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August 3, 2007

Butterfly Garden emerges as new “hidden treasure” on campus

In the spirit of something new and glorious emerging from a cocoon, the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s Butterfly Garden has moved from the inception stage to physical reality on campus.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute and other private sources funded the project at a cost of about $1,000 as a teaching garden designed to attract butterflies with certain plant species.

The Butterfly Garden will be used in biology courses in conjunction with that department, the ULM Museum of Natural History, and the ULM Herbarium. “We plan to use the garden in our labs, beginning with a botany lab this fall,” said Dennis Bell, biology instructor. “It can be used for quite a few different topics in biology, including the coevolution of insects and plants, ecology, and others. It may very well be the only one of its kind in Monroe, though many private homeowners encourage butterflies by making special plantings for them.”

The garden, somewhat irregularly shaped, is about 200 square feet and located inside the enclosure behind Garrett Hall facing towards Sandel Hall. It is hidden at present, waiting to complement renovations to the Garrett Hall greenhouse, made possible by a grant for native seed propagation from the LA Department of Transportation and Development. Tom Sasek, associate professor of biology and the designer of the Butterfly Garden, obtained the grant.

Bringing the Butterfly Garden to life was a group project. As part of a service/learning component, HHMI students in the Summer I program laid the blocks and shoveled the dirt and bark mulch. Greg Smith, coordinator of beautification, and the landscaping crew from the grounds department leveled and set the blocks to ensure stability. Facilities Coordinator Shane Praetorius cut and laid all of the capstones to give the bed a finished look.

The HHMI students set out the plants. Some are nectar plants providing food, and some are hosts for the butterflies’ larvae. Species of butterflies in Louisiana include monarchs, swallowtails, skippers, admirals, viceroys, duskywings, brushfooted, and emperors.

Future plans include a sidewalk with a “circular pad, so that people can pause and enjoy the garden." The greenhouse will be made wheelchair accessible and eventually become part of the Museum of Natural History’s tour.

The HHMI students attended a small garden dedication on Thursday, June 28 in memory of Biology Department Head Davis and Janet Pritchett’s daughter, Elaine Smith. Smith passed away on May 25 and was a teacher and mother of three girls. The garden is dedicated to teachers in her name. Another larger university dedication is planned for the early fall semester.

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