CHARLESTON — Colorful flowers with colorful names — black-eyed Susan, sky blue aster and golden Alexander, to name a few — are there to draw attention.
They might catch the eye of passing motorists, who then might wonder and think about visiting the historic location.
But, really more to the point, the plants will serve as a food source for equally colorful insects, butterflies that will benefit and perhaps be counted as part of an ongoing study project.
Some of the more than two dozen varieties of plants are already in bloom at the newly created butterfly garden at the Five Mile House. They’re a hint to the booming colors that can be expected, probably around this time next year, when all the plants reach blooming stage.
Located at the corner of the site next to the intersection of Illinois Route 130 and Westfield Road, and next to the site’s new sign, the garden should be hard to miss.
“It’s a point of interest,” said Five Mile House Committee member Kathy Hummel. “It makes people look.”
The garden is the latest in the list of work the committee’s taken on since it acquired the Five Mile House property, the location of what’s thought to be one of the oldest buildings in Coles County.
Committee member Lynne Padovan said the plants in the garden are natives of the Illinois prairie. The garden’s decorated with some large stones that were part of the original foundation of the 140-year-old barn the committee obtained and moved to the site, she also noted.
“We’ve tried to preserve as much as we could,” Padovan said.
The garden will also be a “hot spot” for the local Urban Butterfly Initiative, which encourages people to photograph and log the butterflies they see.
The project has recorded 57 different species of butterflies in Coles County since last year and the Five Mile House garden will bring a chance to log more, said Paul Switzer, the Eastern Illinois University life sciences professor leading the initiative.
“We’re cultivating some amazing habitats and helping butterflies at the same time,” he said.
Hummel said she attended some of Switzer’s talks about the initiative and thought that the Five Mile House would be a “perfect place” for a butterfly garden.
Work on the garden started last fall with removal of grass and other plants growing in the location. Five Mile House Committee member Les Dallas tilled the ground and members of the Eastern Illinois University EIU Earthwise student organization spent a day in September applying mulch.
Switzer said the Urban Butterfly Initiative now has 17 locations designed as “hot spots” in and around Charleston with plants to attract butterflies.
By the end of the year, the project will have likely established about 20 acres of butterfly habitat, he said.
“We plan to keep doing this,” Switzer said.
The ongoing plans include a second annual “Butterfly Blitz,” a repeat of last year’s request that people photograph butterflies and upload the photos to a database.
He said the data will be used and shared by the iNaturalist organization, a worldwide “citizen science” project. This year’s “Blitz,” which will again include prizes for the top participants, is scheduled for July 25-Aug. 2, he said.
A list of the Charleston-area butterfly “hot spots” is available on the iNaturalist website at inaturalist.org/projects/butterflies-of-the-urban-butterfly-initiative-butterfly-hotspots.
The site also has a page specifically for the Five Mile House garden at www.inaturalist.org/projects/ubi-5-mile-house-butterfly-hotspot.
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