“The monarchs were a big surprise for me,” says Rod Sayler. “It’s the first time I’ve seen them at WSU except for fly-bys. I thought, ‘Wow, it finally happened!’”
Sayler, an unabashed naturalist known for his signature straw hat, is project director for the WSU arboretum and an associate professor in the School of the Environment. In an age of climate specialists and policy wonks, Sayler revels in the down-to-earth study of nature in all its intricate bounty.
For the last nine years, he and his colleagues have painstakingly transformed a wedge of farmland into a botanical garden alive with wildflowers, native bees, meadowlarks, amphibians, rabbits, deer, and more. It’s a campus dream over a century in the making, says Sayler, one that finally came to fruition in 2008.
Today, the arboretum’s rolling hills are threaded with public walking paths that lead through a showcase of environmental exhibits: sagebrush rangeland, native Palouse prairie, a ponderosa pine forest, grassy savannas, wetlands, and blue camas meadows. Interspersed here and there are pockets of milkweed.
While some arises naturally in disturbed soil, most of the milkweed is carefully grown from seed and transplanted with the help of Sayler’s restoration ecology class. It’s a slow process—the plants take two years to mature to the flowering stage when seedpods can be harvested for further propagation.