Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Monarch Census--The Winter Survey

Guest Blog by Mary Nemecek, Missouri Master Naturalist Osage Trails Chapter.

On November 3rd, around mid-day, monarchs began arriving in Angangueo, Mexico.  Angangueo sits just below the two largest wintering grounds formonarch butterflies.  This signals the end of their fall migration and the beginning of their winter spent on the Oyamel trees in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.   

Here the monarchs will overwinter, hanging in heavy clusters, earning  them the honor of being the 2nd most dense concentration of animals in the world (krill being #1).  In March, they will become active, begin to breed and move back north.

During the winter scientists will survey the amount of land covered by monarchs on the biosphere and estimate population numbers.  The number of hectares (ha) covered by monarchs is usually reported in late January and an estimate of the monarch population is released.  Monarchs are counted at 50 million monarchs per hectare.  One hectare equals 2.47 acres.
These monarchs are roosting in Kansas
on their way to Mexico. Photo by Mary Nemecek

The history of the number of monarchs estimated per hectare is interesting and heartbreaking.  Originally, after years of study through different methodology, monarchs were estimated at 10 million/ha.  That was until a winter storm hit the overwintering grounds in 2002 and millions of butterflies were killed.  It's estimated 75% of the population was lost during the storm.  However this gave scientists the opportunity to count butterflies. One square meter held  2,241 dead monarchs.  This alone would have brought the number per hectare to 22.4 million.  But not all the monarchs perished and there were still many more in the trees.  In other areas the numbers were even higher.  Eventually scientists came to the conclusion that each hectare held a population of 50 million monarchs.
These are monarchs roosting at their Mexican
overwintering site in Mexico.  Photo from Learner.org.

An all time low of .67 ha was reached during the winter of 2013/2014.  Last winter the number bumped up to 1.13 ha but nowhere near what scientists would like to see for a sustainable population.  Dr. Chip Taylor with Monarch Watch would like to see the number at 4 ha and US Fish and Wildlife Services have set a goal for 6 ha.

Earlier this month, when Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel visited the reserves with Mexican Environment Secretary Rafael Pacchiano , news sources around the world reported predictions of a large increase in overwintering populations to 3 or 4 times over  last winter.  If true, this could get the monarchs to Dr. Taylor's minimum threshold of 4 ha.  However, Dr. Taylor is more conservative in his predictions.  "I've been predicting at least a doubling of the population and that seems justified based on the success of the tagging program," wrote Dr. Taylor in a recent post. 
The number of data sheets returned for tagged monarchs shows almost double the number of monarchs tagged this year compared to last year.  Dr. Taylor said roughly 80,000 plus monarchs were tagged in 2015.  Additionally, Dr. Taylor points out, the conditions this year were similar to 2011 when the overwintering population came in at 2.89 ha.

As  the world holds their breath for good weather on the wintering grounds and a big count, there is still more work to do to ensure a continued, sustainable, migratory monarch population.  USFWS estimates it takes 29 stems of milkweed to produce one overwintering monarch.   That leaves an additional 1.5 billion milkweed stems needed in the mid-west to achieve a 6 ha overwintering population.  Lots of planning and planting left to do.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Collecting, Processing, Storing and Sowing Milkweed Seed

Guest Blog 
By Wedge Watkins and Becky Erickson

The decline of Monarch butterflies is at a critical level. The Mexican overwintering population has declined from using an area of 22 acres to about one acre.  There are many reasons for the decline, including loss of habitat, both in Mexico and in their Midwest migration route throughout North America. What can we do to help Monarchs now and in the near future?

Photo: Becky Erickson
As monarchs fly south looking for milkweeds on which to lay eggs, they are also looking for patches of quality wildflowers. There is no point in finding a nursery for the larva if there is nothing for the new adults to eat. The next generation needs plenty of quality nectar for fuel to start the next leg of the Journey. The best plan is to donate about 1/10 to 1/4 acre of a field corner or fence row to plant 15 species or more of quality wildflower seed with the same technique explained below. Treating heavy fescue with herbicide for a year before seeding is imperative to the persistence of the wildflowers.

1.  Scout out areas for milkweed plants. Learn to identify at least common milkweed and swamp milkweed. Others you might find are Sullivan’s, purple, tall green, butterfly, whorled, or spider [in un-glaciated areas]. Common milkweed grows on field edges and roadsides where soil has been disturbed. It is a tall robust plant with wide opposite leaves. Pale pink flowers grow in large clusters from leaf nodes. Pods are about 4 inches long, 1.5 in. in diameter, and are usually covered with scattered extended knobs. Swamp milkweed grows in ditches and other muddy areas. It is tall, smooth with long pointed opposite leaves. Bright pink flowers usually cluster on the top of the plant. Pods are about 3 inches long, ½ in. in diameter, smooth, and point upward in a cluster.

2.  Don’t mow areas where you find milkweed growing.

3.  Delay fall prescribed burns until milkweed seed has been collected from burn units.

4.  Collect seed pods from milkweed when they are ready. Pods are ready when they are dry, gray or brown. If center seam pops with a gentile pressure, they can be picked. If they are starting to fluff out, of course they can be collected. It is best to collect pods into paper bags such as lunch sacks or grocery bags. Label the bag as to location and habitat and the species. Store in an air-conditioned space until processed.

5.  Process the seed (remove the seed from pods and silk). All manner of mechanical devices have been tried, to do this in bulk. Most methods are unsuccessful. It is time consuming to clean seed by hand, but it is the most efficient way.  Hold pod in both hands by the ends. Pop it open enough to hold thumb over silk. Open pod a bit more so you can tease seed into a container. Drop silk into another container; when it becomes unruly, spray it with a little water. There could be seed still in with the silk and pods [ “trash” ], so place it somewhere it might grow.

6.  Store seed properly. Seed needs to be completely dry. Seed is a living plant. When air temperature and humidity added together are < 100, there is a very good chance seed will retain viability for a few years. If the combined number reaches 150, the seed has lost viability. SO: do not leave seed in a locked vehicle in the sun with the windows closed, nor in a closed container in an outdoor shed. DO NOT FREEZE seed; they have moisture in them and will explode and die if frozen. After processing, store in a clean plastic container in refrigerator. Label: “species, year, for planting location”

7.  Identify appropriate areas to sow the seed. While you were collecting you noted habitat. Find another area where habitat is similar and there are few/no milkweeds growing. Do not sow in areas likely to be sprayed with Glyphosate or other herbicides.

8.  Prepare the planting site if needed (this can be done with common garden tools). If the planting site such as a strip next to
    a field or road, is thick with fescue or brome, or some other alien vegetation it would be beneficial to spray glyphosate over the area to be planted several weeks before planting. Then mow short and scruff up the surface with a rake. Do not till.

9.  Sow the seed on bare soil, prior to the first snow; sometime between Halloween and Christmas is best. If soil is workable, germination success would be higher if seed is raked a bit into the surface. But this is not necessary. Simply walk on the seed for good contact. A very light cover of dead vegetation [mulch] can be helpful to keep seedlings from drying out in early summer.

10.  GPS the seed collection site and planting location or mark it correctly on a map or aerial photo. A photo of the location would also help future monitoring efforts.

Service Pollinator webpage and HQ/Regional  Pollinator Coordinators contact information: www.fws.gov/savethemonarch   www.fws.gov/pollinators
Monarch Joint Venture: http://monarchjointventure.org/
The Xerces Society: http://www.xerces.org/

Habitat Assessment Tool:
Monarch Breeding Habitat Assessment Tool. University of Minnesota Monarch Lab and Monarch Joint Venture. Online at: http://monarchjointventure.org/images/uploads/documents/Habitat_Assessment_Tool_Final_test.pdf

Milkweeds Information and Seed Sources: 
 Border, B. and E. Lee-Mader. 2014. Milkweeds: A Conservation Practitioner’s Guide. 143 pp. Portland, OR: The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Online at:  http://www.xerces.org/milkweeds-a-conservation-practitioners-guide/
Pollinator Plants of the Central United States: Native Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) (2013). The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Portland OR, in collaboration with USDA-NRCS. Online at: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_PLANTMATERIALS/publications/mopmcpu11905.pdf
Great Basin Pollinator Plants: Native Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.)(2012). The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Portland OR, in collaboration with USDA-NRCS Great Basin Plant Material

Center, Fallon NV. NVPMC Technical Note No. 56.  Online at: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_PLANTMATERIALS/publications/nvpmctn11525.pdf

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Rearing Monarchs—more than child’s play (but that’s a good reason)

In the wild, a monarch egg stands very little chance of becoming a butterfly.  Less than ten percent of monarch eggs and larvae survive to adulthood.

Eggs and larvae succumb to predators, disease, parasites, pesticides and weather among other things. Freezing temperatures and extreme dry conditions damage milkweed—and by extension monarchs.

Dylan Nemecek raises monarchs
with his mom, Mary, at their home near
Kansas City
Rearing monarch butterflies under protected conditions can significantly increase the percentage of eggs that make it to adult butterflies.  Plus, it’s a terrific way to engage children in learning about nature.

It turns out that we have many “monarch foster parents” among Missourians for Monarchs partners.  A few of these “crazy cat(erpillar) people” spoke about WHY they do it and provided some good hints about HOW to raise monarchs.

“Watching a monarch caterpillar go through the instars, pupate and emerge as a butterfly is captivating,” said Joyce Oberle, a Master Naturalist with the Miramiguoa Chapter.  “It’s a miracle of nature that makes you eager to witness it again and again, and it’s an experience you want to share with others.”

Joyce has reared monarchs for more than five years at her home in Sullivan, Missouri. Her home sits on 14 acres where Joyce has various spots of milkweed and native plants. Joyce’s home has been a Monarch Waystation for most if not all of the time she has reared monarchs.

Joyce Oberle 
 “My first sighting for 2015 was April 22nd,” said Joyce. “The next day, I saw what I believe was the same butterfly. She had to be from Mexico, looking quite pale and frail. I checked my native milkweed plants that were up and growing, and there were several eggs that I was ultimately able to rear to live butterflies.”  Thus far in 2015, Joyce has raised 18 monarchs, has 12 more in stages of development, and is still on the lookout for eggs and larva.

Joyce is also a sought-after presenter about monarchs—three presentations in August alone.  If your group wants a monarch presenter, contact Joyce at jmoberle43@gmail.com.

Mary Nemecek, a Master Naturalist with the Osage Trails chapter near Kansas City, has raised monarchs for four years—starting it as a fun project to do with her then two-year-old son, Dylan.  “Then I encouraged his school to raise Monarchs, and now they have a monarch waystation,” said Mary.

 Mary likes to start with monarch eggs so predation and parasitism is less of a problem, but she also brings in larva of any size. Last year Mary and Dylan raised just over 100 and tagged 75.

Jean Ackley is a member of the Greene County Master Gardeners.  She and her granddaughters raised more than 60 monarchs last year, and so for this year have reared and released 37 with another 15 “in one stage or another.”  

Jean also raises varieties of milkweed, which she donates to her chapter’s plant sale every year.  This year Jean added another butterfly garden that measures 18 x 10  “If you’re going to bring in caterpillars, having a good supply of milkweed is important,” said Jean.

Kirksville Master Gardener, Dan Getman, PhD., has raised butterflies for three years and has engaged the neighborhood kids to help.  “You can choose the number of monarch caterpillars you want to rear and release depending on the level of your commitment and interest,” said Dan. “ You can start small and later increase the number of caterpillars as you become more confident and better understand what’s necessary.  The neighborhood kids have helped find monarch caterpillars and eggs, and then have tagged and released the adult butterflies.” Last year Dan and the children tagged and released 25 monarchs and this year expect to at least double that number.  They have also raised and released various swallowtail butterflies.
Dan Getman and his neighborhood helpers have raised monarchs at Dan's home in Kirksville, Missouri, for three years.  Rearing monarchs is a great way to engage children in nature.

How to Raise Monarchs

Rearing monarchs in captivity—even if one raises and releases hundreds each season—is not the answer to stemming the population’s decline.  In fact, raising monarchs indoor can actually cause harm if proper procedures are not followed because larva reared in close proximity to one another are susceptible to disease transmission.

Basically, you collect monarch eggs or caterpillars by taking the entire leaf on which you find them and place it in a slotted plastic container or netted cage with paper towels on the bottom.  Provide fresh daily milkweed, replace the paper towel and clean the container of caterpillar frass (excrement) every day.  Make sure you have a plentiful supply of milkweed.

Caterpillars are eating and pooping machines, so keeping containers clean of frass and disinfecting them with a mild bleach solution between “batches” is important.

“As the caterpillars get bigger and eat more, the frass is wetter and they invariably are exposed to it,” said Dan.  “It is very important to clean the containers daily.”  

Dan is experimenting with a bowed 1/2 inch mesh atop paper towels to make container cleaning easier and keep caterpillars away from the frass.

When fully grown, caterpillars will crawl to the top of the container, attach to the top with a silk web and form their chrysalis.  After 10-14 days, the chrysalis will darken and the monarch butterfly will emerge.

Jean Ackley's "paint bucket" setup works fine, too.
After hanging for a few hours to dry their wings, the monarch can be tagged if you wish and released.

Pictured below is Dan's indoor monarch-rearing setup. A small investment in containers, a ready supply of milkweed and a willingness to devote time to maintaining enclosures is all it takes to get started rearing monarchs:

Dan suggested these options for containers:

6in x 6in x 7in plastic food containers.  You can obtain these from any store for ~ $1 apiece.  Simply slit the top to allow airflow, but do not create any holes that allow the caterpillars to crawl out.  These can hold 2 caterpillars per container.

10in x 12in x 14in plastic container with little handles that serve as a latch for the top.  These cost around $5-10 apiece.  Slit the top for airflow.  Dan said he typically adds 4-6 caterpillars per container of this size.

2ft x2ft x 4ft netted cage.  These can be obtained from various suppliers, or you can use a netted laundry bag, as long as it has a zipper that allows you close it. This allows you to place a pot of milkweed inside the cage and transfer caterpillars to the growing plant. Dan will raise 10-12 caterpillars in these cages. 

Mary Nemecek prefers to use netted cubes. “I think the air flow helps their health and the cubes collapse for easy storage,” said Mary, who noted that she has also used aquariums successfully as well.  

It's convenient to place a paper towel on the bottom of the container and tape a piece of it along the side to give the emerged butterfly something to hang onto. 

Cubes like this can be obtained from
science equipment vendors.  Mary uses
fresh milkweed cuttings.
Caterpillars can be placed in the container at any stage or size.  Using larger caterpillars allows them to feed on your outside plants longer, but while doing so, they are susceptible to predators.  Using smaller caterpillars requires feeding them for a longer period of time.  You can start with larger ones, and then decide whether you want to raise them from an earlier stage of growth.

Good sites to learn about rearing monarchs include:

Monarchwatch.org at the University of Kansas
Monarchlab.org at the University of Minnesota

The FaceBook Group, The Beautiful Monarch, is a great source of information and sharing for those who raise monarchs. The Beautiful Monarch

Carol Pasternak’s book, “How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: A step-by-step guide for kids is another great resource.

Tagging Monarchs for Science

The main benefits of rearing monarchs, beyond the mesmerizing joy of witnessing metamorphosis up close, include education and citizen science.  Tagging monarchs released from captivity can provide data to help answer questions about the fall migration, and a good way to introduce children and students to science.

Dylan Nemecek nets monarchs for fall tagging
“I usually start tagging around Sept 5,” said Mary Nemecek.  Mary also participates in the Monarch Health project administered at the University of Georgia. “I test many of my wild-caught monarchs and the monarchs I rear from the larval stage also get tested for OE, and I get a report later in the winter about the health of the migratory monarchs passing through my yard.”  OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha) is a protozoan parasite that infects monarch and queen butterflies.

Jean Ackley's granddaughter releasing a monarch.
When the wild asters are in bloom, the monarchs are probably migrating, and that’s a good time to tag. In Missouri, peak migration will occur in September. 

To learn more about tagging, go to Monarch Watch Tagging
To learn more about Citizen Science Research, go to Monarch Lab Citizen Science

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Seed Collecting Time is Just Around the Corner

I noticed yesterday that my butterfly weed plants (Asclepias tuberosa) have pods.  They're not ready to harvest just yet, but soon.  Collecting milkweed seeds is an important way we can help monarch butterflies...as long as said seeds are eventually planted, that is!

If you've already scouted out places to collect, and know when and how to harvest and how to propagate the seeds, you need not read any more.  What you might want to do, however, is teach others in your community how to do it and encourage "seed harvesting" days.

If you are new to harvesting milkweed seed, here are the basics:

Collect No Pod Before Its Time

Ripe pods will split open when you push on the "seam" of the pod.  The seeds should be brown or “browning up.”  If the seeds are still pale, do not collect. Some people put rubber bands or tie the pods shut, which works well if you cannot check frequently enough to collect at "just the right time."

Don't Rub Your Eyes When Collecting

Milkweed sap can damage your eyes. First it's an irritation, then the cornea may become cloudy, and it can take a week to clear up. 

Learn Some Easy Tricks to Separate Seeds from Floss

Here is a good video that shows how to do it. 

Removing floss from milkweed seeds

If you are not planting outdoors this fall (before the first frost) or starting plants in a greenhouse, make sure the seeds are dry for storage

Monarch Watch has some good information on how to store and grow milkweed from seed.  
Monarch Watch Growing Milkweeds

Have more seed than you need?

If the seed was collected in Missouri, send it to Missourians for Monarchs.  
Here's how:  

Package the seed in plastic bags (dry it first) with a label inside that identifies:
  • Donors name and affiliation.
  • Location of collection: part of a county, near a town, GPS or something to nail down approximate location
  • Quantity collected/donated (ounces or pounds)
  • Specie of milkweed (common name is okay)
  • Date harvested
Mail to:  

Phil Rahn
511 Kenilworth Ln
Ballwin, MO 63011

Send Photos of Your Harvesting Outings to Sarah at Missourians for Monarchs at  missouriansformonarchs@gmail.com

Separating seeds is sort of like a quilting bee without the fabric, needles and thread.

A "Just Right for Separating Seeds from Fluff" swamp milkweed pod.

Probably should just let this one go...it's past its prime collection time. That, and check out all the milkweed bugs!! 

QUESTIONS about seed collecting?  Send them to Sarah Berglund at Missourians for Monarchs or check out this helpful FAQ site from Xerces Society:  Milkweed FAQ from Xerces Society

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Guest Post from Partner Mary Nemecek

Mary is a member of the Osage Trails Master Naturalist.  She serves as Conservation Chair and member of the Board of Directors for Burroughs Audubon, the Greater Kansas City chapter of National Audubon. The busy naturalist is also a member of the Steering committee for KC Wildlands, a member of the leadership group for the Kansas City Native Plant Initiative, and a member of the Advisory Board for the Platte Land Trust.      

Mary wrote this piece to explain the plight of monarchs to co-workers.

Monarch butterflies have graced our yards, our childhood and our imaginationFrom teaching us metamorphosis to filling the sky during their great migration in the fall, they have been a mainstay from Mexico, across the Central plains and up to Ontario for thousands of years. 

Lately however, they have been making headlines for a different reason- they are in trouble. Big trouble.
An estimated $3.2 million dollars will be made available from various conservation groups and agencies for projects related to creating habitat for the monarch butterfly. Over 500,000 people wrote in support for a species that numbered 1 billion in 1996 hit an all time low of 33 million
butterflies on their overwintering grounds in Mexico in 2013/2014. The 2014/2015 count, which was expected to at least double, came in at a disappointing 58 million butterflies. Up, but only by 69%. 

In 2013 The World Wildlife Fund declared the Monarch Migration endangered and in 2014 an official petition was made to US Fish and Wildlife Services to give the monarch butterfly protection under the Endangered Species Act.

So what happened? The easy answer is loss of habitat. The monarch caterpillar eats only one family of plants- milkweed. You often see milkweed growing on the side of highways and it was once very common in crop fields. There was enough milkweed to support hundreds of millions of monarch caterpillars. With the invention of GMO crops, that tolerate being sprayed by herbicides, the monarchs have lost the millions of acres of milkweed that once grew in between the row crops. Additionally another 2.2 million acres per year is lost due to development. All this adds up to a shortage of plants for the female to lay her eggs on and the caterpillars to eat.

But there is hope. A large effort is underway to plant milkweed and other native, nectar plants for the monarch in its breeding grounds and migration corridor. 

An estimated $3.2 million dollars will be made available from various conservation groups and agencies for projects related to creating habitat for the monarch butterfly. Over 500,000 people wrote in support for
protection of the monarch .

Individuals will play a big role in the recovery of the butterfly. There are over 45.6 million acres of yards in the US, mostly filled with turf grass. If everyone planted a little milkweed, along with some native nectar plants, the monarch would some of the habitat they have lost.

Here are some suggestions for creating monarch habitat in your yard:

-Plant at least a couple different species of milkweed. Some favorites are Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), Spider milkweed (Asclepias viridis)and if you have room- the Common milkweed (Aclepias syriaca) often seen growing on the side of the road. Common Milkweed is a monarch favorite. Just beware, Common milkweed will spread and so give it lots of space.

-Plant native nectar plants with different bloom times for the adult monarchs. Try coreopsis, monarda, coneflowers, asters and goldenrods.

-Eliminate pesticide use in your yard

Once you have created a little habitat for monarchs in your yard, from time to time carefully look under the leaves of the milkweed for the small, white, football shaped eggs or the striped caterpillars gently munching away. When they have found the haven you have created for them, take a moment to enjoy what it feels like to save a whimsical orange and black creature for the generations to come. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Sharing Best Practices...and Pitfalls!

If Monarch Populations were increasing as fast as the number of partners joining Missourians for Monarchs our goals would be met already!

Project leader Bob Lee (left) has put a lot of miles on his car and hours on his phone contacting people around the state--and he reports that Missourians are eager to help and ready to go.

For some partners, planting milkweed for monarchs and creating butterfly habitat has been part of their program for years.  These partners have some particularly instructive experiences to share...and this blog is a good place to do it.

Please read Guest Blogger Val Frankoski's story about creating a butterfly garden in "post-tornado" Joplin.

Val Frankoski - Chert Glades Chapter
Missouri Master Naturalists Monarch Lead

TO SIGN OR NOT TO SIGN…a cautionary tale   by Val Frankoski

Putting up a sign can draw people in or attempt to keep them out. Sometimes it is difficult to know when to apply which principle, but it is always something to consider seriously. Assuming can get you in to trouble!

Butterflies are often used as a symbol of transformation and renewal. They remain very close the hearts of Joplin residents ever since the May 2011 EF-5 tornado. Post-tornado, numerous children reported that “butterfly people” had protected them during the storm, and those dramatic images provided inspiration.

As part of the community’s recovery and healing from this disaster, a partnership project materialized in the form of a butterfly garden and overlook in Cunningham Park. This park, once embellished by ancient trees, was almost totally destroyed by the tornado. In early 2014, after hardscaping for the project was completed, 40+ volunteers would assemble to plant over 200 plants in preparation for the garden’s dedication.

Just before planting day, I requested a list so I could see which host plants had been included, but no digitized list was available to email. Because of my interest, I was asked to talk about butterfly gardens in general to volunteers on the day of the event. With earnest enthusiasm I stressed the need to have both host and nectar plants in any real butterfly garden and mentioned the monarch and its dependence on milkweed as an example.  Then we all went off to plant. When I got around to examining design plans, I was embarrassed to see how few host or even native plants had been specified!

Nevertheless, the garden was complete with durable signage and currently draws busloads of people to the site on a regular basis…not so sure about butterflies and pollinators.

Afterwards, I expressed my own and our chapter’s gratitude for being included in the project...but disappointment that the butterfly garden concept I unknowingly described to volunteers had NOT been carried out in the planting, with its abundance of primarily nectar plants! With a small amount of cash left in the budget, we were offered an opportunity to let our MO Master Naturalist Chert Glades Chapter adopt another spot in the same park to create our own vision of a host/nectar friendly butterfly garden. Naturally, we accepted!

The spot chosen was in an island bed near the park’s main entrance, adjacent to a parking area. It had about 200 sq. ft. of mulched open space with only a few trees and shrubs. Although the location was a bit windy, the sun exposure, soil and prominent location seemed ideal. This spot would see lots of traffic!

The planting needed to be a bit formal due to its location. We included asters, prairie dropseed, slender mountain mint, spicebush, golden alexander, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, Senna, and of course, milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). We were later gifted with additional milkweed (Ascleias tuberosa).

With plenty of TLC over a hot dry summer, all plants did well over the first year. In fact, three lowly swamp milkweed became sizeable and drew dozens of monarchs in early fall when they laid eggs and transformed into their migratory generation. Anticipation of a more mature garden in 2015 fostered talk of including an interpretive sign to highlight the benefits of native plants and monarch waystations in home gardens. (Initially we did not want to highlight a garden space that was not suitably established or invite pilfering of the plants.)

 The first weeding in early March was followed by an inspection just before Mother's Day to see how plants had come through the winter, look for new volunteer plants, and determine necessary chores.  Instead we were panic-stricken to see what appeared to be weed killer damage on more than 50% of the plants! Some were completely dead; some seemed on their way out, while still others appeared to remain in mint condition.

After contacting the City Arborist about our suspicions, he discovered park staff had been turned loose with weed killer the previous week. He was astonished everyone on staff didn’t know about the planting. We were told to make a list of plants needing replacement. Some plants had apparently been missed by the sprayer, but death continued to claim more plants during the next two weeks.

In late May, Missouri Wildflower Nursery delivered replacements as part of a sale at Wildcat Glades Conservation Camp; Audubon Center in Joplin. 

The garden has been replanted, initial outrage has subsided, and a large number of seedlings emerged, including a few more swamp milkweed!

The moral of this story is that waiting to include some sort of sign can be a big mistake. It is now obvious that signage was needed from the get-go and we helped bring this disaster on ourselves.
Inelegant but clear signs now define this as a “NO SPRAY ZONE.” I have also requested an onsite meeting with staff ASAP. Better late than never.

Learn from our mistake! Never assume!