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.