Riverside resident Jacqueline Miller (left) joined RBHS Ecology Club volunteers Nia Banks (middle) and Christina Melchiors in a milkweed planting initiative on June 10 resulting from a partnership between the club and the Riverside Landscape Advisory Commission. | Claire Harrison

The Riverside-Brookfield High School Ecology Club and Riverside Landscape Advisory Commission came together on the morning of June 10 to plant milkweed in an effort to create habitats for migrating monarch butterflies.

Around 15 student volunteers from Ecology Club joined LAC members to plant about 750 swamp and butterfly milkweed at three Riverside locations: Swan Pond, Triangle 54 (located at Bartram, Loudon and Nuttall) and Patriots Park. 

Milkweed is essential for the development of monarchs, as monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed leaves. As they go through metamorphosis, toxins from milkweed accumulate in the monarchs’ bodies, making them poisonous to potential predators.

The milkweed planting project was decided on after the two organizations connected in the fall of 2022.

LAC Chairperson Lisa Lambros reached out to Eco Club Sponsor David Monti to speak to the club about monarchs after they were deemed endangered. When she presented in fall 2022, members of Eco Club shared similar concerns, and the club chose two projects to support the monarchs as part of its yearly plans.

“The ultimate goal is to plant more plant corridors that are critical for the survival of monarch butterflies,” Lambros said.

The Eco Club has been doing community restoration work and protecting native plants since the organization became active in the mid-1980s. In addition to its work to protect monarchs, the Eco Club hosted an event in partnership with the L.J. Hauser Junior High School Green Club to recycle whiteboard markers at the end of the 2022-23 school year.

“We’re just really happy and glad to get to do this,” said Monti. “Monarchs are very endangered and very important in terms of pollinators, so to plant milkweed is a really cool thing.”

With a similar mission to Eco Club, the Riverside Landscape Advisory Commission helps with the stewardship of public lands in Riverside and educates residents about the landscaping best practices for their homes. 

In recent years, however, the LAC directly sought to improve and maintain Riverside’s landscape. In addition to the milkweed initiative, for example, the LAC often partners with scout troops for special projects.

“I reached out to Dave Monti and said I’d like to come talk to the group because I figured it could be a good connection,” Lambros said. “I want to see young muscles, and there are a lot of young muscles here.”

Ecology Club’s first project in support of monarchs was to create dunk buckets, a natural way to reduce mosquito populations. The five-gallon buckets are filled with water, hay or straw and a tablet of naturally occurring Bacillus thuringiensis

The bacterium is only harmful to mosquito eggs and larvae and attracts female mosquitoes to lay eggs while being safe for all other parts of the ecosystem. Most pesticides targeted at mosquitoes are also harmful to butterflies, making dunk buckets a good way to protect the monarchs and their role in the food chain. 

The June 10 milkweed planting was the second of the two, and the new plants will be watered at least once each week to ensure their survival. Lambros hopes that the new plants will flower by the end of the season to give some visual indication of success, but she knows that they will immediately start helping monarchs.

“I’m hoping by the end of the season … that we have some blooms so we have some visual, but they’ll already start helping any monarchs that come through,” Lambros said.

Considering their successes, Monti thinks that both the mosquito dunk buckets and milkweed planting could become annual initiatives for Eco Club.