You can call Annie Hart "Mother Milkweed" if you wish and she won't mind. She, in fact, relishes the title because Hart is a champion of the lowly milkweed. It isn't so much that Hart thinks it is such a beautiful plant, but rather because milkweed is so important to the thing that she really finds beauty in: the monarch butterfly.
Hart organized the Monarch Migration Celebration three years ago in Cole. The reason was simple: She believes monarchs need a champion. The third-annual celebration will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 2 in the Jerusalem community, two miles east of Cole.
"A few of the people in Cole noticed fewer and fewer monarchs, less than they had seen historically. We had heard stories of monarchs filling the fields, turning alfalfa fields from purple to orange as they filled the fields, and we wondered what had happened to them all. So, we did a little research and learned that there was a hard freeze in Mexico in 2002, and near 80 percent of the population was frozen," she said.
That set Hart on a mission that resulted in three butterfly gardens in Cole, and a festival that is unique and colorful — as colorful, in fact, as the monarch. A parade features festivalgoers dressed as butterflies, flowers and caterpillars. Hart comes, of course, in her Mother Milkweed costume. There is food, face painting and, of course, butterflies.
The gardens attract the butterflies, but because the monarch migration does not always follow a festival schedule, it is up to Hart and her volunteers to take it beyond just a butterfly watch. Monarchs are on display in all their forms. Monarch caterpillars chew on leaves and crawl up and down stems in screen cages. Visitors often get to see the new monarchs emerge from cocoons and spread their wings for the first time. Children are encouraged to enter a drawing to help release recently hatched monarchs into the wild. Children and butterflies become a completely natural pairing.
So the Monarch Migration Celebration comes complete with home-grown, living examples.
Hart said that it is not an easy task.
"We planted our monarch host plants here in the garden, and as the caterpillars grew, we would harvest them or bring them into the house. As long as you have plant material to feed them, they can continue to grow and provide an area for them to pupate on a stick or the top of screen cage or something, and then you can have your butterflies."
Festivals sometimes spring from traditions or events that are worth commemorating, but this might be the first event that actually sparks a movement. One that takes us back to milkweed and flowers in general. If monarchs are to survive, they need both of those — flowers for the nectar that fuels the migration engine, and milkweed on which to lay their eggs. The sap in the milkweed is a natural bird repellent, providing a safe haven for the caterpillars as they begin their change from crawling critter to beautiful creature. Most people love flowers, but not many people are fans of milkweed. They will be if Hart has her way.
Monarch Migration Celebration 2010
• When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 2.
• Where: the Jerusalem community, two miles east of Cole on State Highway 74B, between Goldsby and Blanchard.
• Information: Look in the "Festivals and Events" section at Travel