For the love of butterflies!

Please read that title as a curse. I coined it while logging my Master Gardener volunteer hours in the massive spring weeding of my neighborhood elementary school’s native plant butterfly garden. When I first approached the garden to do my civic duty, all I could see was a 1600-square-foot mat of bittercress, chickweed, and deadnettle with the occasional dandelion poking through. By the time I was done, I was one bitter chick, but the weeds were dead, and that was just dandy.

Native plant gardens, I learned, are tricky to maintain. Consider that you are removing weeds from a bed in which the plants that are supposed to remain are commonly called Joe Pye Weed, purple sneezeweed, and ironweed — in other words, weeds. Distinguishing the desirable weeds from the invaders is challenging enough, but today I noticed an interesting and annoying pattern. Undesirable weeds have an uncanny tendency to mimic and grow next to the plant you are trying to protect. As the Viceroy butterfly survives by impersonating the Monarch, the wily common chickweed (Stellaria media) and mouse-ear chickweed (Cerastium fontanum) look an awful lot like a small field cerastium (Cerastium arvense, a.k.a. field chickweed) in the wee hours of spring. And if you aren’t terribly familiar with spotted mint (Monarda punctata), you may hesitate to pull the deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) or accidentally pamper another member of the mint family, ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea, a.k.a. Creeping Charlie). And this particular native habitat garden has 29 varieties of native weeds, that is, plants.

Exasperating as this garden is to maintain, the educational and emotional rewards for the students in late summer are well worth the muddy knees and curses of my springtime education.

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