The village’s Public Works department has been quietly installing butterfly gardens around Forest Park, as a way to support the declining monarch population. Butterfly gardens comprise of milkweed and other plants butterflies like to feed on.
Earlier this month, officials installed the second public butterfly garden in the village at 1138 Lathrop Ave., by the entrance to Forest Park Mall. They installed the first butterfly garden at 512 Desplaines Ave., at the park across from Village Hall. They said they plant to continue to plant butterfly gardens around the village.
Patrick Braniff, who has worked as a driver for the Public Works department for almost 30 years, and is responsible for planting and maintaining the flowers along Madison Street and the rest of the village, said he has personally been adding milkweed to the village for a long time.
“I’ve been adding butterfly bushes to some of our plantings in the village for more than 10 years,” Braniff said, adding that in the early 2000s he started planting butterfly bushes around his house. He said he has “always” been aware of the struggles facing monarchs and other butterflies, adding that Forest Park is located on what is referred to as a “flyway” for the monarch butterflies in their annual migration to Mexico.
The National Wildlife Federation partially credits the decline in the monarch population to the rapid loss of milkweed along the flyway, as well as to the increased use of pesticides and climate change. The nonprofit reported that the population of eastern monarch butterflies has declined by 90 percent in the last 20 years, and is in danger of extinction.
The group therefore applauds villages and individuals who are doing things as simple as not pulling up milkweed they find around their homes. Braniff added that residents can help the cause by adding plantings that help butterflies on their 1,000s of miles migration and by simply not pulling up the milkweed that they find on their property.
Braniff noted that there is milkweed in the flower box at the corner of Circle Avenue and Harvard Street.
“It may look a little strange,” he said with a smile, “but it’s done intentionally.”
He also tipped his hat to McAdam Landscaping, which matches the sale of flowers to the village with lots of advice on which ones to plant and when.
“[McAdam] even will put together what I call a ‘recipe’ of what and how to plant that I just follow,” Braniff said.
John Doss, director of Public Works, said that, for a long time, he wasn’t aware of the butterfly plight, but that the threat facing the insects, which are instrumental in pollinating plants, seems to now be firmly in the cultural consciousness.
He said Public Works’ increased planting of butterfly-friendly plants is not due to any one person. The installation of this last butterfly garden, for example, he said was due to conversations between Mayor Rory Hoskins, Commissioner Jessica Voogd and a resident named Julieta Aguilera Rodriguez, who is responsible for this summer’s traveling “Science, Art and Trash” art exhibit.
“We didn’t realize that milkweed is essential to the survival of monarch butterflies. We might have been pulling it up for years, thinking it was a weed,” Doss said. “It’s only been in the last few years that it has been brought to our attention.”