Sulphur, OK Monarch butterfly experts plan a full day
of educational and informational delights March 14 at the Chickasaw
Cultural Center in Sulphur.
March 14 is "National Butterfly Day." It occurs during the Chickasaw
Nation's annual "Three Sisters Celebration," which runs March 13-18.
The Three Sisters corn, squash and beans were traditionally
planted together, each sustaining the other. The plants were used
for centuries by Chickasaws to nourish tribal members and were stored
in preparation of winter.
The Chickasaw Nation has dedicated itself to preserving the
monarch butterfly. The beautiful creature's population numbers have
declined dramatically in the last 20 years. Special activities include:
- 10 a.m. 5 p.m. Butterfly booth/exhibit will be set
up with several giveaways and make-and-take crafts by the butterfly
garden, located just outside of the tribe's traditional village
on the Cultural Center campus.
- 10 a.m. 5 p.m. "Pollination Games on the Plaza" (education
outreach to learn about butterflies) to be in the plaza in front
of Chikasha Poya Exhibit Hall.
- 2 p.m. - Anoli Theater Lecture, "The Monarch Butterfly
and Its Amazing Journey!" by Thalia Miller and Rhonda Sellers.
- 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Anoli Theater Film, "Flight
of the Butterflies."
The Chickasaw Nation is responding to what has been described
by experts as an emergency. America's monarch butterfly, a favorite
of North Americans, is starving and disappearing, according to U.S.
Department of Agriculture experts, who say unless U.S. citizens
act now, monarchs may not exist beyond 2020.
More than 90 percent of North America's native grassland was
once covered with milkweed and other nectar plants, a perfect butterfly
ecosystem. Now, a large portion of these grasslands have been converted
into agricultural use or building development. In addition, insect-killing
pesticides claim thousands of butterflies annually. New grasslands
with milkweeds and nectar plants need to be cultivated immediately,
USDA agriculturalists say, if these creatures are to survive.
The Chickasaw Nation has responded by planting milkweed and
nectar plants throughout its 13-county territory in Oklahoma, particularly
at Cultural Center.
The 184-acre campus, which lies a few miles east of Interstate
35, is in the monarch migration flyway through Oklahoma. The butterfly
journeys from Mexico to Canada each spring and reverses the trip
each autumn. Monarchs must lay their eggs on milkweed plants because
their offspring emerge as caterpillars and feed on milkweed leaves.
The caterpillars then spin themselves into cocoons and come out
a few weeks later as brilliant orange, black and white butterflies.
Chickasaw Nation horticulture director Thalia Miller oversaw
the planting of milkweed, fruit trees and nectar-producing plants
at the Cultural Center.
"While the milkweed plant is very important, the nectar plants
are also," Ms. Miller said. "As soon as the butterflies emerge from
their chrysalis and have feasted on milkweed leaves, they begin
hunting for nectar. For that reason, we have filled our garden with
plants that produce large amounts of nectar, such as Coreopsis,
Solidago, Monardo and Echinacea."
Ms. Miller and her team planted two large gardens at the Cultural
Center, in addition to milkweed plots and nectar-rich feeding grounds
throughout the nation's boundaries.
"The key is to stagger plantings so blooms occur at different
times in spring, summer and fall," Chickasaw Nation ecological resource
coordinator Rhonda Sellers said. "By doing this, plants will be
blooming in the garden at all times."
The tribe has also constructed a "hoop" greenhouse near the
Cultural Center's traditional village that offers a controlled enclosure
for growing plants year-round. There is even a way for monarchs
to enter and depart the structure safely.
The Cultural Center sponsors a monarch butterfly day each spring
and autumn, featuring hands-on educational activities for teaching
monarch-saving actions, special guest speakers and fun-filled learning
The Chickasaw Nation and other Oklahoma tribes have partnered
with Monarch Watch, a University of Kansas program that coordinates
Chip Taylor, a former University of Kansas professor who leads
Monarch Watch, said, "The tribes are ideal partners who strongly
value respect for the land. No other place in the country offers
this type of opportunity in dealing with large landowners."