Tribute to the monarch butterfly: Ohioans gather milkweed seeds to save a species

Ohioans know if they want a sky filled with the wings of the monarch butterfly, it’s going to take healthy habitat for monarchs and other pollinators. That’s why hundreds of Ohioans worked together last fall to collect approximately 200 pounds of common milkweed seeds, totaling over 19 million seeds! If you live in Ohio, you can take part in the 2017 statewide milkweed seed pod collection.

Last year’s massive statewide seed collection effort was spearheaded by the Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative, which is working to get the word out about why monarch butterflies are disappearing and help partners create monarch habitat.

The disappearance of milkweed, the only host plant for monarch caterpillars, across the U.S. has contributed to the 80% decline of the eastern monarch butterfly population over the last 20 years. Regionally adapted milkweed grows and blooms when monarchs need it most. The dried husks of the common milkweed pods are a treasure chest filled with biological gems - viable milkweed seeds. The decrease in local milkweed plants makes local seed collection efforts all the more important.

“If we want monarchs, we need to protect their awe inspiring multigenerational migration to and from Mexico,” explains Marci Lininger, Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative Coordinator and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Ecological Services Biologist. “That means more milkweed across monarch habitat and speaks to the Initiative's motto ‘All you can, where you can’.”

From September 1 to October 31, 2016 Ohioans showed their overwhelming support for monarch conservation. Local agencies and individuals came together across 88 counties to collect, label and drop off their common milkweed pods. In preparation for this massive collection effort, Waste Management Inc. donated 90 specially marked collection bins and Soil and Water Conservation District offices served as drop off locations.

“The driver for our expanded efforts to collect common milkweed pods was the increased price of common milkweed seed,” said Lininger. “Adding in common milkweed seed to pollinator mixes doubled the price of our mixes and we decided that we could harvest the seeds ourselves and add it to our mixes once we purchased them.”

Over 2,500 gallons of pods were collected, enough to fill five truck beds! The majority of seeds collected are being grown into plugs with the help of prison horticultural programs. These seedlings will be tended overwinter to increase survival rates when they are transplanted next spring. About 5% of the seeds were given to participating Soil and Water Conservation Districts to thank them for their efforts in the statewide collection. The remaining seeds have been used for outreach and in seed mixes to establish connected monarch habitats across Ohio. The seeds sprouting today are priceless, because they are also the seeds of hope for a future filled with monarchs.  

Lininger offered this advice to other states looking to start milkweed collection programs: “Early on you have to establish a firm foundation of partnership and interest. A shared understanding of goals and missions among our partners has given us the ability to make the Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative a sustainable, long term grass roots program that will be around for future generations - of both Ohioans and monarchs”.

 

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The Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative and other partners help create pollinator habitat to achieve the Pollinator Health Task Force’s goals of 7 million acres of pollinator habitat established across North America over the next 5 years and increase the Eastern population of the monarch butterfly to 225 million butterflies.

The amazing results of the 2016 collection would not be possible without the support of Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative’s partners including: Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Ohio Department of Natural Resources - Division of Wildlife, Waste Management Inc., Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio Department of Transportation, Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio State University, Wright State University, Master Gardeners, Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalists, and many more.

For more information about the Ohio Pollinators Habitat Initiative contact: Lori Stevenson: Lori_Stevenson@fws.gov or Marci Lininger: Marci_Lininger@fws.gov

 

This story originally published in the USFWS Inside Region 3 Newsletter. Written By Melissa A. Clark, USFWS Midwest Regional Office - External Affairs and Lori Stevenson, USFWS Ohio Private Lands Office.  Header photo by Jeff Burris, Ohio Division of Wildlife.

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