The dome is back at Luling Elementary

Representatives of Arc of St. Charles meet with Garden Diva Cindy Ledet about helping to maintain the dome.

Community joins in bringing back butterflies

Today’s Butterfly Dome at Luling Elementary School doesn’t give up its story easily with its newly planted flowers and fluttering new friends, but in November it was slated for demolition.

The once “living place” where students could see butterflies born and flying about in the dome had fallen into disrepair.

Speech pathologist Dottie Watson approached Sam Buhler, who became the school’s principal last year, about it only to learn the dome was doomed to removal in just two days. Watson’s appeal for a reprieve got a yes, but she had to agree to take on the task and get it moving with two weeks.

And so the dome became the butterfly house that love is rebuilding.

“With the help of a bunch of teachers and community people, and Hope Seller at Martin’s Nursery, and the St. Charles Parish Women’s Club, we all jumped in and helped save it,” Watson said.  “People came on a Saturday and we cleaned up the dome, and removed the weeds. We put gravel and planted new plants.”

The once downgraded state of the dome, which is an estimated 30 feet in diameter, is giving way to an emerging greenery and veritable buffet that includes plants like dill weed, milkweed and parsley that are particularly tasty morsels for the caterpillars curling along the plant stems in anticipation of spreading their wings.

“They’re eating herbs,” Watson said. “When the swallowtails colors look dim, they’re making way for the next generation.”

It’s only the first phase of work, but the Women’s Club have the Garden Divas, who stepped in with the plants and work aimed at saving the dome. They’re regulars now and the group that donated money for the fountain that now trickles water to the butterflies.

A view through the top of the butterfly dome.

The Labor of Love volunteers with St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church built a netted entranceway to the dome in spring, which keeps the butterflies inside the structure.

Watson described Buhler as “amazing.”

“If it’s reasonable and it helps the kids, he says ‘yes’ – and that was the dome,” Watson said. “He showed up to help clean.”

Cindy Ledet, co-chair of the Garden Diva, just met with the ARC of St. Charles, which is volunteering clients to help maintain the dome. ARC Executive Director Victoria Bryant told Ledet they want to help, too, and are partnering with the divas.

Ledet also named Martin’s Nursery and Michelle Collier of Nature’s Magic Butterfly Dome as aiding the dome. Garden Giggles were created by fellow Divas Karen Sauzer and Debbie Caire. Some caterpillars were donated by Collier along with Sue Madere and others purchased with donations, also from the Garden Divas. Even Sheriff Greg Champagne donated the SCWC Garden Diva sign for the dome.

The dome is alive again, but Watson said the butterflies only last 10 days so she goes there often to remove the ones that have died.

“Everyday I look for the dead ones and remove them because the children cry,” she said.

Despite death, the dome fulfills the ebb and flow of life.

Watson marveled over the people who donated caterpillars and even more than the dome could support at the time.

They had Butterfly Dome Day in May, which drew more than 200 people. They were able to view nearly 40 butterflies at the time, and the caterpillars out there now are heartily munching on the herbs and milkweed as the next generation readying for arrival.

“The smiles on these faces is enchanting,” Watson said of children watching caterpillars turn into a chrysalis then become a butterfly. When born, they are docile and can be held in the hand.

“Children got to hold a live butterfly – carefully,” she said. “They couldn’t believe they could hold it in their fingers.”

This “living place” provides a place where they can interact and learn about science, Watson said. It’s also a calming place where children can cool off if they’re angry or serves as a reward to them.

The public also can visit the dome until 6 p.m. on weekdays.

This natural classroom extends even further already.

Watson said they make small terrariums with plants and butterflies taken into the classrooms.

“I was quite impressed with my older children who became naturalists,” she said.

The dome has literally taken root.

Student Jade Harri

A butterfly at the Butterfly Dome.

s said the butterflies help the earth in many ways by pollinating. Fellow student Kazyne Harris she said she learned “butterflies are attracted to purpose and yellow.” And student Shyanne Zeringue added, “I like butterflies because they remind my mom of her grandma. If the butterflies have two dots on them, they are males. The females have no dots.”

The natural appeal of this project is expanding.

Michelle Collier, who wrote a book on gardens, is adding a vegetable garden with a planter for every grade that will be placed next to the dome. Students will get to plant their own vegetables, as well as raise, pick and eat them.

“It’s a natural space that everyone in the community can enjoy,” Watson said. “This is the only dome in St. Charles Parish and it’s become an exciting place for the teachers and the kids.”


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