By Kay MacNeil
Most of you have read many statistics about the plummeting number of monarch butterflies in the United States, Canada and Mexico, their migration site. According to a January, 2014 USA Today report, “The number of monarch butterflies wintering in Mexico plunged this year to its lowest level since studies began in 1993.”
Each of us can do something to help reverse monarch numbers and assure that there will be monarchs in our future. And that is … plant milkweed … the only plant on which monarchs will lay their eggs. The lack of milkweed, the monarchs’ host plant, is an important factor in their drastically declining numbers, along with urban sprawl, extreme weather, new farming practices and illegal logging in the butterflies’ winter habitat in Mexico.
As the chair of the Milkweed for Monarchs project, a new initiative of the Garden Clubs of Illinois (GCI), I am encouraging everyone to plant milkweed. Milkweed For Monarchs is a multifaceted project emphasizing the planting of three native milkweed species – swamp milkweed, (Asclepias incarnata), butterfly weed (A. tuberosa), and common milkweed (A. syriaca). Working in conjunction with the Save Our Monarchs Foundation, (saveourmonarchs.org), a Minnesota-based nonprofit, the GCI has put milkweed planting as a priority.
GCI will also partner with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Department of Natural Resources to obtain milkweed seeds and incorporate them into roadside restoration or construction projects on infields, ramps and interchanges. IDOT will be doing all actual seed broadcasting on select interchanges and new road projects where they can incorporate the seed into a grass and wildflower mix.
There are many ways to distribute seed: through your garden club, local fundraisers, Earth Day and Arbor Day events, women’s clubs, church groups, Girl and Boy Scouts or the 4-H.
Individual gardeners can do their part. I envision gardeners going down the back roads, throwing fluff along Osage orange hedgerows or wild areas where there will be no complaints – not near farmers’ fields where pesticide drift can kill the milkweed.
According to GCI’s Roadsides Operation Wildflower Chair Barbara Bischoff, “Orange butterfly weed is perfect for urban and suburban gardens, a low- growing and long-lasting perennial for pots and gardens. It is easy to buy plants at your local garden center. In Wilmette, the Little Garden Club is planting “Pocket Prairies” in homes, parks and alleys: anywhere we can to rebuild to the food chain.”
How to Get Seeds
- Collect it along roadsides and vacant lots. Milkweed pods are large and easy to handle. So are the seeds. Swamp milkweed forms pods in September; common milkweed in October and November. Place the seed in envelopes and label for your future use or mail it to me (689 Golf Club Lane, Frankfort, IL 60423). I will pass it on to IDOT or the GCI.
- Club members who do not have access to seed but want to help may send me a Stamped Self Addressed Envelope with a dollar bill in it. I will send you a modest package of the seed of your choice with instructions. Call if you need advice (815-469-1294).
- Apply to the Save Our Monarchs Foundation (saveourmonarchs.org). This organization will supply you with free swamp milkweed seed. Its goal is to donate 350,000 swamp milkweed seed packets by the end of 2015. Contact Ward Johnson at ward@SaveOurMonarchs.org. The GCI will also be distributing vouchers for this seed at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show.
It is vitally important to reverse monarch numbers and assure that there will be monarchs in our future. The Garden Clubs of Illinois (GCI) plans to help bring back monarchs, one milkweed plant at a time, with this project. You can help the monarchs by planting some in your own yard, too.
Kay MacNeil is the Director of the Garden Clubs of Illinois District VIII and the GCI Bee, Bird and Butterfly Chairman. Her garden contains at least five varieties of milkweed.