Collect milkweed for monarchs


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Did you participate in the 2020 common milkweed pod collection? We’re doing it again this year! If we want a sky filled with the wings of the monarch butterfly, it’s going to take healthy habitat for monarchs and other pollinators.

The massive statewide seed collection effort has been ongoing since 2015. It is spearheaded by the Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative (OPHI), which is working to get the word out about why monarch butterflies are disappearing and to help partners create monarch habitat. Milkweed is the only food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars.

The disappearance of milkweed 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, OHPI 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’.”

That motto means we welcome the help of someone who can grab a few milkweed pods near where they live or commute, as well as the help of someone who has the time and know-how to collect many grocery bags full of pods! In this effort, truly every little (or large) bit helps. Make sure that before you collect seed, you become familiar with common milkweed to avoid harvesting pods from similar plants such as hemp dogbane and swamp milkweed. Locate common milkweed stands for seed pod collection in areas such as pastures, meadows, along railroad tracks, along bike paths, agricultural field margins, vacant land, cultivated gardens, and parks. Establish ownership of the land and make sure to get landowner permission for monitoring and collecting the seed pods. Arrange for the owner to conserve the stand until the seed pods are ripe and ready to harvest.

Also, make sure the seeds inside the pod are mature. Seed pods from common milkweed should be collected when the pods are dry and gray or brown in color. If the center seam pops with gentle pressure, they can be harvested. It is best to store pods in paper bags because in plastic bags moisture can Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative logo.collect and allow mold to develop. Store the seed pods in a cool, dry place. Remember to leave a couple pods per plant to ensure natural regeneration occurs.

If you have questions regarding milkweed collection, please contact Marci Lininger at marci_lininger@fws.gov. When collecting, please note the date and county of collection on the paper sack, then bring them to the Fayette Soil & Water Conservation District office between Sept. 1 and Oct. 30. The Fayette SWCD office is located in the Fayette County Agricultural Center, 1415 US 22 SW, Suite 500, Washington Court House.

Thanks for being one of the many partners in this exciting project to return the monarchs to the skies!

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