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The butterfly effect: Piney Flats woman finds happiness, purpose in pollinator garden

Nathan Baker • Aug 4, 2018 at 12:14 AM

In the past year, Rebecca Millhorn’s yard has gone through quite a metamorphosis.

An experienced landscape designer, in September, Millhorn uprooted shrubs she’d spent years tending at her Piney Flats home to make room for milkweed, phlox and other flowering plants butterflies find irresistible.

The transformation came after meeting an old friend from high school who suggested she create a butterfly garden. After some research, Millhorn was bitten by the bug.

On a rainy Thursday in August, Millhorn pointed out tiny, white specks on the bottom of the leaves of milkweed plants scattered alongside her driveway. Each speck is a monarch butterfly egg.

She explained that the monarchs choose to lay their eggs on milkweed because the emerging caterpillars will eat the leaves and take on some of the plant’s toxicity, a deterrent to predators that might eat the larvae.

Down in the backyard, Millhorn showed off the fattening white, black-and-yellow caterpillars that will soon enter a chrysalis, then emerge about 10 days later as fully formed monarch butterflies.

While the caterpillars clung to the milkweed, a brave black and yellow eastern tiger swallowtail fluttered across the yard and landed on some nearby purple phlox to drink nectar from the delicate flowers.

On the other side of her house, Millhorn planted a paw paw tree, a favorite place for swallowtails to lay their eggs. It took her a considerable amount of time to find the fruit tree, but she finally sourced one at a nursery in Bristol.

“I think it’s important for people to put out some kind of flowers and enjoy them,” she said. “The butterflies are just so peaceful to watch. It just makes you so relaxed.”

Maintaining a butterfly garden isn’t all sitting back and watching the day fly by, though. With all the different plants needing special care, Millhorn said she gardens nearly every day.

But she isn’t the only one in the family with an enthusiasm for winged insects. Her husband, Jack Bumgardner, started raising honeybees five years ago after retiring from the IRS.

Recognizing the importance of the pollinators to the food system and the threats they faced from declining populations, he put up a few hives.

Like honeybees, monarch butterfly populations have dropped over the past two decades, with scientists pointing to pesticide use and declining habitats as potential causes.

Now, their hobbies complement each other, as both the bees and the butterflies enjoy the multitude of flowers in their yard.

“It’s just something we enjoy doing and something we can do to help out,” Millhorn said.

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