Save the Monarch Butterfly, Plant Milkweed Seeds
The survival of Monarch butterflies has been threatened by habitat loss and pesticide use. These beautiful pollinators travel long migratory routes during which they feed solely on milkweed plants. Large areas of this vital milkweed plant have disappeared under monoculture crops of industrial agriculture and the heavy use of chemical sprays like Roundup to control weeds. Fox Haven wants to help increase the Monarch Butterfly population by planting more milkweed.
Monarch butterflies are symbols of transformation. When the caterpillar creates and goes into the cocoon, the old form disappears in a liquid mass and transforms into a completely new butterfly. You can’t help the emerging butterfly as it comes out of the cocoon because it has to stretch out it’s wings all by itself. But watching this process is fascinating – transformation from caterpillar to butterfly!
Now is the time to go out and find where the milkweed is growing in your area. And then when the time is right, go back to harvest the milkweed pods before they burst and fly away in the wind. Save the pods and learn how to protect them through the winter and learn where to plant the seeds in the spring, and tend them as they grow.You will be giving the Monarch butterflies a place to lay their eggs when they return.
There are over 100 types of milkweed plants. The most abundant milkweed plant in the Frederick County area is known as the Common Milkweed. It has a large pod that changes from green to brown as it dries in the fall. The time to harvest the seeds is after the pod turns brown, but before it bursts open. Growing the seedlings in early spring and planting them once the weather warms will result in the highest germination and survival rate (versus direct seeding in the fall or spring).
Fox Haven is willing to help:
- Organize students and volunteers to collect seed pods in the fall and store in paper bags through the winter. Here at Fox Haven, there are Common Milkweed plants in the field across from Heart House and in the fields behind Touchstone House. There are a few plants near the learning center too.
- In January, place seeds in a moist towel inside a plastic bag in the fridge. Keep checking the towels to ensure they stay moist.
- After 3-12 weeks in the fridge, place seeds in potting trays filled with high quality potting soil. We can place ours in front of large windows in Touchstone House for direct sunlight. Soil must be kept moist. Thinning may be necessary once seedlings emerge.
- When seedlings are 3-6 inches high, transplant to small dixie cups. Soil must be kept moist.
- Once outside soil temps reach 75 degrees, transplant outside or give to people interested in planting. Prior to transplanting, the seedlings will need to acclimate to the outdoors for several days by taking them outside in the morning and then back in the house at night.
Keep your eyes open for educational activities, programs available for school kids, workshops on Monarch Butterflies about why they are disappearing, how the producers of Roundup are profiting, why our government isn’t yet solving this problem, and what you can do about it.
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