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Let's Get Out There: Building a Monarch butterfly habitat in Portland

The Portland Monarchs are a group dedicated to helping and learning about Monarch butterflies.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Even on a cloudy day, the view of downtown Portland from the Pittock Mansion is hard to beat.

“This is our first time getting people down here to take a look, and discover all the blackberries and ivy and Scotch broom and things that are here,” said Ida Galash, founder of a community called Portland Monarchs. 

The group is about sharing experiences, learning about Monarch butterflies and helping them and other pollinators. On Tuesday, a handful of volunteers worked on clearing stubborn plants next to the mansion’s viewpoint. 

“We are breaking ground on what will be a monarch butterfly habitat,” Galesh said.

The Monarchs will use volunteer power to clear the brush and then, thanks in part to a $2,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service, spend the money to plant native plant species like milkweed and other nectar plants. The plan is to make the site a trial Monarch butterfly waystation, then gradually expand it.

Credit: Jon Goodwin, KGW

“Monarchs do in fact, come to Portland,” said group member Patti Farris. “And if you plant milkweed for them, then they will stay here and lay their eggs, and hopefully increase the population.”

Mid-February is typically when Monarch butterflies begin their summer migration north from California. Galash recalls usually seeing Monarch butterflies in Portland by mid-June.

“Usually right around Valentine's Day, they will find a sweetheart and begin the migration upwards and start the next generations as they go,” she said.

Most Monarch butterfly generations live for two to six weeks in the summer and may appear in the same spots each year. At the end of the season, the “Methuselah generation” can live for up to eight months. Those are the butterflies that make the journey all the way back to their overwintering grounds

“It would be like me knowing where my great, great, great grandmother lived in Ireland, I have no idea,” Farris said.

Depending on how the trial space goes, Galash hopes people who enjoy the view from Pittock Mansion will eventually enjoy a future butterfly garden as well.

“I think it's wonderful,” she said. “There are people here who care about the Monarch butterflies, who care about Portland. We can't fix all the problems but we can make it a little bit better.”

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