Strawberry Hill Restoration

Volunteers Take Wing  |   Creating Butterfly Habitat at Strawberry Hill

Thanks to the creative collaboration of various departments at RPD and program staff at SFPA, and advice and consultation from a local lepidopterist, a volunteer land stewardship initiative was launched in 2010 to enhance butterfly habitat on Strawberry Hill in Golden Gate Park.

The seeds for the program were first planted when Gloria Koch-Gonzalez, then RPD’s Manager of Golden Gate Park, approached SFPT’s then Executive Director Karen Kidwell and expressed the desire to drive more resources and volunteer hours to Strawberry Hill. “Strawberry Hill is the tallest peak in Golden Gate Park, has an important oak woodland and rich historical significance, but the area has been under-resourced,” explained Koch-Gonzalez, “and RPD welcomes help in taking care of it. I’m thrilled that SFPA is partnering with us in launching a new volunteer initiative to enhance visitors’ experience and natural assets on the hill.”

In advance of the first volunteer work day, respected lepidopterist Liam O’Brien met for a “walk around” on Strawberry Hill with Natural Areas Program staff, Gonzales and her crew, and SFPA’s Stewardship Manager Julia Brashares, to discuss what areas might be most strategic for planting native plants and attracting butterflies. The volunteer component of the project began when a hearty group of volunteers and RPD staff assembled at the Stow Lake Boat house before heading up the hill for three hours of vigorous work. Gloria Koch-Gonzalez and colleagues Andy Stone and Kendra Armitage directed the group in removing two truck loads full of invasive weeds and in planting native species seaside daisy, aster, and coastal buckwheat, among others. And if seeing a positive transformation of Strawberry Hill’s summit wasn’t satisfaction enough, the group then was treated to a lunch time talk from lepidopterist O’Brien who left no doubt that their volunteer energy was well utilized in helping butterfly populations thrive.

O’Brien’s excitement was contagious. “What makes Strawberry Hill so special is one word: topography,” he explained. “Being the highest point in Golden Gate Park, Strawberry Hill is a magnet for ‘hill topping’ – a butterfly behavior central to the mating ritual. Not all butterfly species hill top, but for those that do with flights through Golden Gate Park, Strawberry Hill is a big draw. Strawberry Hill pulls in all three swallowtail species: Anise Swallowtails, Pipevine Swallowtail, and Western Tiger Swallowtail.

A big reason that Strawberry Hill is such an exciting place is that volunteers involved in butterfly habitat enhancement can support what is already going on there. All the plants we use to augment the habitat bolster the butterflies’ presence by keeping them around, nectaring, and subsequently mating.” Gonzalez is pleased with the project. “It’s 21st century horticulture,”she says. “The days of collecting exotic plant species and using them like decorative furniture are over. Instead, today we think holistically and consider relationships - the impacts plants can have on everything around them – and our land stewardship goals reflect that.”

Strawberry Hill volunteer workdays continue--now in their fourth year!--and are on the second Saturday of every month, from 10 AM to 2 PM. Meet at the Stow Lake Boathouse.