Native Plant and Butterfly Trail

Water Lilly at Butterfly Trail

The Butterfly/Native Plant Trail is a wild garden that was initiated by MPF (Moraine Preservation Fund) in 1995. It is located on a former potato farm near the MPF center of operations at McDanel's Launch on the North Shore of Moraine State Park.

Two other organizations have since become involved with the trail. The second organization was 3MJC (Moraine, McConnell's Mills Jennings Commission). They have provided fund- raising, and volunteer help.

In 2000 the trail also became an approved project of the Penn State Master Gardeners of Butler County. Since then, the Trail has benefitted greatly from the Master Gardener's expertise, love of plants, and hard work. 

Thanks to donors and volunteers, the trail has a gazebo (Dambach-Knoechel Gazebo) and a figure-8 shaped pond (Knauf Pond) with an arching bridge (Romberger Bridge). In June of 2001 twelve benches were added to the trail. Now there is a small amphitheater (Dambach amphitheater) facing the gazebo along with benches at the pond, and three along the trail. There is also an educational kiosk at the junction of the western extension to the Bicycle Trail and the road leading down to McDanel's Launch. 

A major donor to the Trail was Bob Eisler. He donated funds in memory of his deceased son. There is a memorial at the gazebo in his honor. 

Monarch Caterpillar on MilkweedSo, what do we do out at the trail? How do we create butterfly habitat? Butterflies need nectar for food (most of them), host plants for their caterpillars to eat, a windbreak, a shallow water source, and minerals for puddling. The host plants needed by butterflies are often very specific. The Monarch butterfly, for example, lays its eggs on Milkweed species (Asclepias spp.) When the Monarch caterpillar eats Milkweed leaves it obtains nutrition, but it also bioaccumulates a chemical that will make it unpalatable to birds. We have supplemented the trail with three species of Milkweed. They are the Swamp Milkweed, Butterfly Weed, and the Common Milkweed. 

Another example is the Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly. This butterfly prefers to lay its eggs on either the Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) or on Sassafras trees (Sassafras albidum). There were a few Sassafras trees already on site. In 2002 the Trail received a gift of plants from Connoquenessing Watershed Alliance. This gift included eight Spicebush, which were planted between the woodland trail and the prairie. The Spicebush will be a welcome addition when they become mature enough to display their early spring yellow blossoms. They are already a welcome addition as far as the Spicebush Swallowtail is concerned. In the summer of 2002 the first Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar was spotted making itself at home in one of the newly planted Spicebush. 

Many other plants have been added, some were planted to provide host or nectar plants for butterflies, and others for their beauty, value to other wildlife, or to educate park visitors. 

Another of our goals has been controlling the five most common invasive plants at the site. Invasive plants likely arrived early on during the secondary succession of the former farm field. Some were mistakenly planted by agencies that were ignorant of the problems they would cause in the future, and yet others spread in on their own. More information on invasive species at the Butterfly Trail.

Monarda DidymaI want to reiterate that the Butterfly/Native Plant Trail is a wild garden. Our goal is to create butterfly habitat and to restore and supplement the site with native plants. It is not to create a formal garden. So if you are expecting geraniums or petunias planted in rows, you will be disappointed. However, if you visit the trail with your eye open to the natural beauty of nature, you will not be disappointed. The Trail is most beautiful in the late summer when the meadow is blooming, and of course in the fall. 

If I have made the Trail sound complete, that is far from the truth. It always needs maintenance and is always evolving. Your labor and talents are needed. We work out at the trail weekly from April thru October. Come join us. or at 724-283-5497. 

Natalie J. Price
Native Plant/Butterfly Trail Coordinator

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