Pollinator plants and family fun at Monarch Watch Spring Open House

Pollinator plants and family fun at Monarch Watch Spring Open House

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LAWRENCE, KANSAS — Carol Rooker and Marilyn Harnisch drove in from Baldwin just 12 miles away to attend the Monarch Watch Annual Spring Open House and Fundraiser Plant Sale on Saturday. The women are Master Gardeners and overseeing a pollinator project that requires converting two large swimming pool planters into containerized butterfly gardens.

Carol Rooker and Marilyn Harnisch left the Monarch Watch Plant Sale with $80 worth of pollinator plants. Photo by Monika Maeckle

“We wanted for sure to get some milkweed–and anything to attract butterflies,” said Harnisch as she and her friend loaded up their SUV with $80 worth of lantanas, daisies, pentas and yes, plants in the Asclepias family–the milkweeds that monarch caterpillars need to fuel their growth to morph into butterflies.

The pair found what they were seeking on the West Campus of the University of Kansas at Lawrence. After a brief thunderstorm rolled through the hilly terrain early in the morning, the clouds parted, the sun appeared, and the two women joined hundreds of others to purchase hard-to find  pollinator plants. By 8 AM, 80-100 people formed a line at the entrance at the chance to get “first picks,” said Amy Isenberg, who was managing traffic and parking while overseeing 14 Boy Scouts from the Douglas County Palethe District.

Monarch Watch and local growers offered some 10,000 plants, including 11 varieties of often elusive milkweed species, including Whirled, Incarnata, Common, Tropical milkweed, and even the African native, Asclepias Psychocarpa, also known as Balloon Plant. See the entire plant list here.

Who’s got milkweed? The Monarch Watch Annual Plant Sale and Open House. Photo by Monika Maeckle

Monarch Watch staff, University of Kansas students and dozens of volunteers have been working on the event for months. While the sale usually generates about $30,000 for the organization, the net income is about a third of that because of costs associated with its production. “The event is less about making money than it is about outreach,” said Monarch Watch director and founder Chip Taylor.

In addition to a fantastic plant sale, the Open House also served up a fun day of family activities. Plant buyers dominated the early morning hours, but later, families arrived for the array of kid-friendly fun and education.

Future entomologist debates “petting” a Tobacco Hornworm at Monarch Watch Annual Plant Sale and Open House. Photo by Monika Maeckle

Monarch Watch headquarters in the University of Kansas Foley Center opened its doors with chocolate chip cookies and a water station as educational videos rolled in the background. KU student Kenzie Galliher answered questions about the monarch butterfly life cycle and a “pet the caterpillar” station, doodlebug display, wasp nest inspection, live tarantulas and glass-paned beehive competed for visitors’ attention. Out in the butterfly garden, seedball making and a corn bag tossed entertained the crowd.

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