Led by Darien Nature Center staff, a group of Pear Tree Point School third-graders planted a milkweed garden behind the facility in hopes of attracting monarch butterflies to breed.

The planting was the year-end service project for the class of about 25 kids from the K-5 private school. Other year-end projects in other grades at Pear Tree included writing letters and drawing pictures for U.S. troops, conducting a food drive, and reading to pre-schoolers at the Family and Children Project in Norwalk.

The planting was organized by the school with the help of the Darien Beautification Commission and the Nature Center.

Nina Miller, an instructor at the nature center who oversaw the planting, said the project is an important one to try to reverse a dramatic decline in the monarch butterfly population since the 1990s.

The die-off has been caused by the use of agricultural pesticides to kill the milkweed plants on farms, poisoning larval monarch butterfly caterpillars. The milkweed plant's nectar is the caterpillars' only food, Miller said.

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Monarchs will hopefully lay eggs in the protected milkweed patch, Miller said.

"The situation of the monarch butterfly is dire," Miller said.

After the planting was completed by the children, the class visited the center's indoor animal exhibits to either look at or touch animals, including a bearded dragon, a tarantula, and screech owls.

One of the kids, Will Warnock, 9, said he was hoping the milkweed patch would do some of the butterflies some good.

"I'd be happy if it grew and there were some butterflies," he said.