Master naturalist addresses Calusa Garden Club

Sara Wolf
Publicity chairperson, Calusa Garden Club

Donna Kay, a certified master naturalist as well as a certified master gardener, spoke to Calusa Garden Club of Marco Island at its Oct. 9 meeting on the topic “Butterfly Gardens – Anyone Can Have One.”

Kay enhanced her presentation by dressing in costume as a butterfly, complete with gossamer wings and antennae. Susan LaGrotta, a member of Marco Island Beautification Advisory Committee and Charlette Roman, Marco Island City council member, were also in attendance and LaGrotta spoke briefly to the group about the city’s Calusa Park butterfly garden. 

From left, Sara Wolf, acting chair for speakers; Charlette Roman, Marco Island City Council; Susan LaGrotta, Marco Island Beautification Advisory Committee and Donna Kay, speaker, dressed in a butterfly costume.

Kay is a 21-year resident of Marco Island and obtained her master gardener certification about 12 years ago. Through her Power Point presentation, she educated garden club members about butterflies being a bellwether of a healthy plant environment. If you garden does not have butterflies, and bees, then your garden and yard may be poison to these helpful creatures.  Butterflies, along with bees, wasps and other insects, pollinate our gorgeous flowers and flowering trees in Southwest Florida.

Kay illustrated her talk with photos of the lifecycle of butterflies, varieties of butterflies, and plants that are inviting to butterflies. She also showed pictures of the Calusa Park Butterfly Garden on Marco Island, complete with photos of various types of butterflies on the Calusa Park plants.

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LaGrotta spoke to the garden club about the Marco Island Calusa Park butterfly garden on Winterberry Drive. The butterfly garden was a joint endeavor between the city of Marco Island Beautification Advisory Committee and the Calusa Garden Club. It was established by a working group of both organizations who located the site, planned the garden, and the purchased and planted the plants to attract and nourish butterflies in the garden. Calusa Garden Club financed the purchase of the plants by donating the $10,000 it raised from producing and selling “Palms, Pineapples and Periwinkles,” a gardening calendar for Southwest Florida.

Kay’s expertise in “all things butterfly” began when she was a student in the master garden program sponsored by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension, at the Collier County Extension location. While attending classes, she discovered an “abandoned” butterfly garden and, with the support of Collier County Extension, she and others restored the butterfly garden at the extension.

Display about Calusa Park Butterfly Garden prepared by Donna Kay and Susan LaGrotta.

Master gardeners are certified by UF, IFAS after an intensive three-month course of study and passing an exam. Florida master gardeners must volunteer in their communities at least 75 hours in their first year in the program, and take part in continuing education every year. The master gardener program provides a way for University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences to extend its reach statewide into local communities, and master gardeners are a vital source of knowledge who serve as resources for our communities.

If you are interested in planting shrubs, flowers and trees that attract butterflies, Kay cautioned that you should purchase your plants from native nurseries. Big box retailers have been advertising and selling plants such as milkweed, a plant that serves as food for Monarch butterflies, but the specimens the big box stores sell have been poisoned by systemic pesticides that kill the butterfly larva when they eat the leaves. Therefore, make sure when you purchase butterfly friendly plants that they have not been subjected to systemic pesticides.

 Calusa Garden Club of Marco Island is a member of the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs and membership is open to those interested in horticulture, floral design and environmental matters residing five months or more in Collier County. 

Calusa Garden Club of Marco Island meets the second Monday of each month, October through March, at Wesley United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, 350 S. Barfield Drive, Marco Island. Business meetings begin at 12:30 p.m. and programs begin at 1:15 p.m. 

Calusa Garden Club welcomes visitors interested in our educational programs and visitors interested in membership. Contact the Garden Club at, or on the Garden Club’s website,, or visit the club’s Facebook page Calusa Garden Club.