OSU Extension Master Gardeners plant plots to help save Oregon silverspot butterfly

YACHATS, Ore. – An effort in Lincoln County by Oregon State University Extension Service Master Gardeners may help stem the decline of the Oregon silverspot butterfly.

While not yet listed as endangered, the population of the pretty pollinator has drastically grown smaller because of the loss of its preferred habitat of salt-sea meadow land that once stretched from the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington to northern California. Now found in only five small natural habitats – including two just south of Yachats – the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the Oregon silverspot butterfly as threatened.

Evie Smith, Master Gardener and small farms coordinator in Lincoln County, lamented the decline of the Oregon silverspot butterfly (Speryeria zerene hippolyta).

“The loss of any species is detrimental to the environment and ecosystem that it’s native to as it fills a unique environmental niche,” Smith said. “The loss of this species would mean a loss for the coastal ecosystem.”

To help efforts by the Lincoln Soil and Water Conservation District (LSWCD) to save the butterfly, OSU Extension Master Gardeners, led by Stormi Dykes, have planted two small Oregon silverspot butterfly beds at the Master Gardener demonstration gardens in Lincoln City and Yachats to draw the Oregon silverspot butterfly to a friendly place for food and shelter.

“LSWCD reached out to Lincoln County Master Gardeners last May to see if we wanted to work with them to provide public outreach about Oregon silverspot butterfly pollinator environments and conduct small-scale trials that could help increase the adult’s feeding area and determine how far they will travel,” said Dykes, who took on the trials as her apprentice project. “They are known to be quite sedentary and return to the same gardens year after year.”

Mary Jane Bonelitz, Lincoln City garden lead, and Carita Edson, Yachats garden lead, were excited about incorporating the beds into the gardens they oversee, according to Dykes.

After receiving a list of preferred plants from LSWCD, it took time for Dykes with help from Edson and Bonelitz to research and then source the best plants for the small beds in each location. Ultimately, both gardens were planted with broadleaf stonecrop, common camas, fireweed, pearly everlasting and western red columbine. Yachats added nodding onion and Hall’s aster to the mix. Lincoln City also incorporated coast goldenrod, Hall’s aster, Oregon sunshine, Oregon Iris and yarrow.

“These plants are the ones particularly appealing to Oregon silverspot butterfly but are also appealing to other butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and other pollinators,” Dykes said. “It’s a win-win situation. If we plant and we don’t attract silverspot, we’re still providing food for pollinators as a whole. They are all declining. We can’t lose.”

The combination of a June planting and the persnickety weather conspired against both gardens last year, Dykes said.

“They are not the lush, vibrant Oregon silverspot butterfly oases that we would like,” she said, “but that’s what we hope to see this year. We will nurture and possibly increase the current footprint for Oregon silverspot butterflies and other pollinators.”

The benefits of the gardens motivate Dykes, who has long been interested in the environment and wildlife in particular.

“I’m a donor to and involved with groups overseas saving endangered species,” Dykes said. “It’s been near and dear to me. When this opportunity came up in my county, it spoke to me, and I raised my hand. It was a meaty project for me to get into. We live in a beautiful area of Oregon and want to preserve what we have. Anything I can do to keep the Oregon silverspot butterfly alive and thriving is good.”

Tyler Clouse, watershed program specialist with LSWCD, expressed gratitude to Smith and the Master Gardeners for their work.

“The pollinator gardens were meant to be funded by a grant that is still pending,” Clouse said. “The Master Gardeners took it upon themselves to jump start these gardens and highlight the Oregon silverspot butterfly in numerous outreach events and newsletters. Momentum continues because of community persistence.”

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