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Otterbein class works with city to help declining monarch butterfly population

Otterbein class works with city to help declining monarch butterfly population

Milkweed, so vital in the life cycle of the monarch butterfly, is now legal to plant in the City of Westerville largely due to the efforts of Otterbein University alumna Peg Duffy ’61 and supported by students in Associate Professor Paul Wendel’s Science in the Primary and Intermediate Classroom.

Westerville City Council voted to remove milkweed from its list of noxious weeds, which still includes such weeds as thistle, ragweed and poison ivy, at its meeting Nov. 1. Property owners can be fined for failure to cut or destroy noxious weeds when notified by a Westerville code enforcement officer.

Duffy got the ball rolling last spring after reading through a newsletter from the City of Westerville which listed the “do’s and don’ts” about lawn and weed maintenance. 

“I went up to City Manager David Collinsworth before a city council meeting and said, ‘Hey, you’ve got milkweed on that list (of noxious weeds)—you want milkweed for monarch butterflies.’ That’s all I said. I didn’t write them a letter or anything like that.”

Students in Wendel’s class, without knowing about Duffy’s earlier contact with the city, added a little more science to the discussion. They specifically expressed concern about the declining population of monarch butterflies in a letter they sent to city council Sept. 15. The letter stated: “Monarch larvae feed exclusively on milkweed, and milkweed availability has been declining because of housing and other development as well as recent changes in farming practices.”

“We got a response almost immediately,” Wendel said. “I was astonished. We sent it by U.S. mail, but we also emailed a copy. I think we had a response within an hour.”

The change to the ordinance to remove milkweed from the list of noxious weeds had its first reading Oct. 4. Kate Manteniek’s third-grade class from Emerson Elementary spoke about milkweed at the second reading Oct. 18 before the change to the code was passed at the third reading Nov. 1.

What got Wendel, who specializes in science education, started down the path to save the milkweed plant in Westerville, was the fact that he was raising milkweed in pots on his front porch, hoping to attract monarchs and collect the larvae for use in the classroom to show the process of metamorphosis.

“It’s great for small children to see caterpillars eat, grow and live, form a chrysalis, and then emerge from the chrysalis as a butterfly,” Wendel said. “It’s a beautiful educational experience. Our early childhood teachers need to experience this process themselves. Then they can take it to their future classrooms.”

As it turned out, Wendel’s students in Education 2500 wanted to grow milkweed too.

“I let my students know that, technically, this isn’t legal—what do you want to do about it?” Wendel said.

That was when the decision was made to draft a letter, which all the students signed. Now no longer a code violation in Westerville, Wendel’s class planted milkweed seeds into about 45 cups, which can be seen growing on the windowsills of room 441 in the Science Center.