Helping the Checkerspot Thrive

Ben, a Gilman senior, describes his recent Eagle Scout Project at Robert E. Lee Park. As he writes below, he wanted it to benefit both his neighborhood and the Checkerspot  — Maryland’s official state butterfly.

Ben Eagle Scout PhotoWorking with Ranger Bart Viguers and my advisors from Lutherville Boy Scout Troop 711, I worked out a three-part plan that took most of the summer and nearly 300 man-hours to complete. In addition to mulching trails and crafting a rolling sign for the Park, I constructed an enclosure for white turtlehead (Chelone glabra) plants.

BMA eagle project turtle head garden

Ben’s enclosure for the white turtlehead (Chelone glabra) plants.

On the surface these plants may seem uninteresting, but they actually play an essential role in the environment of our local community. The Checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas phaeton), Maryland’s official state butterfly, eats the white turtlehead as its primary food source. They also choose to lay their eggs on the underside of turtlehead leaves, making the plants critical to Checkerspot survival. However, because wetlands are disappearing due to development and an increase of deer over-browsing through their marshy habitats, the plants have become scarce.

Despite several efforts to breed Checkerspots in captivity, including one by rangers at Robert E. Lee Park, the butterflies fail to thrive without sufficient turtlehead colonies. With all of that in mind, I chose to create an animal-proof enclosure on a walking path near L’Hirondelle Club Road close to the marshy banks of Lake Roland.

Ben’s friends helped complete his project, despite the rainy conditions!

Along with help from Park rangers, I had identified this wetland and its colony of turtleheads as one in need of protection from roaming animals such as deer. My plan was to dig up offending grasses and just clean up the chosen plot, then fence in a 15 by 20 foot area and plant an additional fifty turtleheads in the protected area. Unfortunately, I scheduled this project on what proved to be a very rainy day. The friends I enlisted to help me were not too enthused to be there.

However, despite losing shoes, phones and tools in the thick mud, the enclosure was eventually completed. Turtleheads are perennial plants. They bloom July through September with a white blossom that resembles the beak of a turtle. They are members of the snapdragon family. Hopefully these plants will thrive and spread and contribute to a reemergence of the Checkerspot butterfly in our neighborhood.

Editor’s note: By the way, Ben has also done some work relating to Maryland’s official state bird — the Orioles. After spending the summer interning for the Baltimore Orioles, his articles were published in Orioles Magazine. Take a look!

Orioles Magazine

 

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