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Bethune students plant butterfly garden
Bethune Butterflies 1
Clemson Extension Agent Jackie Jordan supervises Bethune Elementary School (BES) student Billy Drennan as he places a butterfly-attracting plant in a garden in front of the school. - photo by Gary Phillips

Students and faculty at Bethune Elementary School (BES) are hoping to see nature in action as the school year nears its end. Students helped plant a butterfly garden April 24 in front of the school, with help from the Clemson University Extension Service and volunteer master gardeners. The extension service operates 4-H clubs throughout the area. Kindergarteners through second graders participated in the project.

“Earlier in the year our third, fourth and fifth graders participated in a healthy choices eating program where they prepared healthy meals through 4-H. They said they would like to do a butterfly curriculum and garden with the younger kids,” BES Principal David Branham said before the planting. “They are going to plant the garden and then learn the sequence about the butterfly’s life cycle and then do a caterpillar release in the garden May 16.”

Branham said he and teachers look for ways to give students a “hands-on” learning experience.

“We like to provide different opportunities for the kids. They love it and 4-H does a great job with (its) programs. The younger kids are going to enjoy going outside and planting things,” he said. “It’s good to have ocal community members come in and participate, too. It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Clemson Extension Agent Jackie Jordan said a special grant made the garden possible.

“This was one-time funding through Clemson University. They gave funding for projects that reached across their various disciplines. This is horticulture and 4-H youth development, plus master gardener volunteers are helping us design, plan and plant the whole program,” she said. “The kids will plant a mix of host and nectar plants, so they’ll be able to see all the life stages of butterflies. Milkweed is a big one because it’s the main food source for the Monarch caterpillars. Parsley and fennel are food sources for the Swallowtail caterpillars.”

Jordan said the big lesson is to show the children they can make a difference.

“The whole idea behind this project is to show them that no matter what their age or where they live, they can do something that has impact on our environment,” she said. “We are going to be releasing Monarch caterpillars into the garden in May, so we’ll let the plants grow a little bit before then. The Swallowtails will come on their own.”

Jordan said the Monarch butterfly population has dwindled, along with other butterfly species.

“The Monarch butterfly numbers have dropped by 40 percent, but also other butterflies are in danger. A lot of it is due to loss of habitat. A lot of the plants they use as their host plant are fewer than before and they (butterflies) are very specific for the plants they like to lay their eggs on and for the caterpillars to feed on,” she said. “A lot of them are termed as weeds sometimes. I would encourage people to purchase and plant some of our native perennials to attract butterflies. Local garden centers can help you pick out plants that will do well in our area and will attract butterflies.”