“I want this to be a butterfly story. I don’t want this to be a story about me” said Mary Ellen Brue as she released six of the many monarch butterflies she has raised over the summer. Her passion for raising and releasing monarchs has been going strong for roughly 16 years and she has no plans to stop any time soon.
“I found some milkweed in my flowerbed, and I heard that attracted Monarchs. The rest is history,” Brue said on how her monarch raising passion began. Every season from mid-June to mid-September, Brue searches through her garden for the first signs of monarch eggs. She then raises as many as she can to butterflies and releases them for the benefit of the species. During that season, her house becomes a monarch nursery.
“Everything in my house is caterpillars,” she said, showing the various containers used separately to house the eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises, and butterflies, “every day, I check every one of these containers. I keep five to a container for ease of counting.” Each of Brue’s containers hold a single milkweed leaf for her caterpillars to eat while they grow. Because of how much they eat, she grows the milkweed herself.
“The little secret about milkweed is that when you break a leaf off, there’s milk!” she said, plucking a leaf from her garden, “What I really want people to know is that we’re doing a great job on milkweed, but we need people to grow more orange, pink, red and yellow flowers. The butterflies need the nectar before they can lay their eggs.”
As of this year, Brue has tallied an estimated 301 monarchs that she has raised and released into the wild. “I’ve been criticized for how I do it, just letting nature take its course,” she said, “but I have better than 90 percent success rate when only five percent survive in the wild.” Brue has enough experience in raising monarchs that she regularly teaches classes, seminars and even her neighbors on how to raise them.
When asked for her advice for anyone who is interested in raising monarchs themselves, Brue simply replied, “Call me up and I’ll walk them through it.” Even with all that experience, however, they still fascinate her. “The more I know, the more I realize how little I know about them” she said.
After so many years of raising, caring for, and releasing monarch butterflies, Brue has learned a lot about life from them. From all those life lessons, she wanted to be certain to leave readers with her own quote: “As the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis and stretches its wings, it discovers it can fly. When we step out and try new things, we find that we can soar beyond our expectations.”