Monarchs in the Trees

Within a shimmery, pale green gown, delicately trimmed with a miniature string of jewels, she (or is it he?) prepares for a grand entrance. Hidden from view, he (or is it she?) is silently exchanging a bumpy body, slimy skin and youthful stripes for golden wings of grandeur. Not a single movement alerts passersby to the incredible transformation that is happening within. Until one day…

Bonnie Juran places a newly emerged monarch on a milkweed leaf

“This one’s a male,” explains Bonnie Juran as she deftly reaches into the aquarium to catch a newly emerged monarch butterfly. She points out the dark spots and thin veins on its hindwings before making a quick notation in her journal. We head outside into her front yard, and Juran gently places the butterfly onto the pink flower of a milkweed plant. He pauses for a second, stretches his wings, and before I can focus my camera, flutters up and away, into a tree.

Juran, a Master Gardener, has surrounded her home in Lake Elmo with native plants for birds and butterflies, including cup plant,  black-eyed susans, and especially milkweed. Monarch populations have plummeted in the past few years due to a couple of harsh winters in Mexico where the insects overwinter, as well as habitat loss in the northern U.S. where they spend their summers. Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants and the caterpillars rely on milkweed as their only food, but urban development and new farming practices are wiping out milkweed and other native plants in many areas. To help provide habitat for the butterflies, Juran has incorporated common milkweed, marsh milkweed and butterfly weed into her gardens. She’s also begun rearing monarch caterpillars in her home to ensure that they get the best shot possible at survival.

High in the tree, he folds his wings gracefully above his body, pausing to consider his next move. He’ll need to find a female, that much is clear, but nectar from a flower would be wonderful as well. Either way, he has only a few short weeks to make his mark on the world before turning over the fate of his species to a younger generation.  

An arbor leads the way to the “grandchildren’s garden” at Sandy and Denny Grabowski’s home.

Just down the road, Denny and Sandy Grabowski are striving to be harmonious with nature as well. After attending a gathering that Juran hosted several years ago, the couple got in touch with staff from the Washington Conservation District and Valley Branch Watershed District and worked with them to install raingardens around their home that capture and clean rainwater from their rooftop before it runs downhill into a pond in the backyard. Their yard also features a small native prairie, as well as newly installed ground-mounted solar panels.

And then, there was only here and now with the wind on his wings and the earth below. From over a hill and beyond the lake, a tree called, flowers beckoned, and he spread his golden wings and flew off into the great unknown.

Two monarch butterflies perch on a milkweed plant in the Juran’s yard.

On Thursday, Aug. 7, 6:30-8pm, the Jurans and the Grabowskis will open up their yards to neighbors and other members of the local community who are looking for ideas and inspiration for how to transform large lots into outdoor living spaces that are attractive, family-friendly, provide wildlife habitat, and help to protect nearby water resources. Sponsored by the City of Lake Elmo, with support from the East Metro Water Resource Education Program and Minnesota Master Gardeners, the event is a casual, open-house style affair, dubbed “An Evening in the Big Backyard.” People are encouraged to stop by anytime between 6:30 and 8pm to walk through the yards and visit with Conservation District staff and Master Gardeners about trees and shrubs, landscape design, planting for pollinators, and managing drainage issues. The Jurans’ home is located at 9784 57th St. N. and the Grabowskis are at 9652 55th St. N, both in Lake Elmo. Look for the flowers in their yards and the monarchs in the trees.