This week an excellent group of volunteers came and helped with a wetland habitat restoration project in the wetlands abutting the farm. Led by Denise Gibbs, a MNCPPC Naturalist and local authority on the Baltimore Checkerspot, the group helped execute a project designed to encourage the reproduction of the Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly, the Maryland State butterfly which has been in dramatic decline over the past 20-30 years.
Our project entailed planting White Turtlehead, the host plant of the Baltimore Checkerspot, in small fenced in areas in the wetlands. Stands of White Turtlehead have been increasingly hard for the butterfly to find because White Turtlehead is a favorite snack of White Tailed Deer which are in abundance in the Maryland/DC Metro area.
While deer have always enjoyed snacking on White Turtlehead their interest in the plant has only become an issue for the Baltimore Checkerspot recently. As development has encroached outside of the beltway the deer have seen their habitat shrink and they have in turn found themselves pushed into the only areas where housing and shopping centers are not being built: the wetlands. White Turtlehead naturally grows in wetland areas and is the only plant that the Baltimore larvae will eat. With more deer grazing less land, and in particular grazing the wetlands, White Turtlehead has become more and more difficult to find. Without their host plant to lay their eggs on and the larvae to eat, the Baltimore buttterfly has gone into decline in Maryland.
With the help of our enthusiastic volunteers we were able to plant 135 White Turtlehead plants in deer fenced areas. We had put in numerous plants last year in various areas in the wetlands, but found that the White Turtlehead really took off in one particular spot, and so we concentrated our efforts close by. It’s our hope that we’ll see one large continuous stand of White Turtlehead develop so it can feed a large population of larvae. We’ll keep you updated on any BaltimoreCheckerspot spottings as the season evolves!