Monarch butterflies are in trouble. For every one you see today, 20 years ago there were four additional monarchs fluttering around. Biologists believe habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change are causing the iconic insects to die off. You can help save the monarch by planting a patch of milkweeds. Here’s how.
Find Some Milkweed
Baby monarchs — aka caterpillars — are picky eaters. Milkweed is the only thing they’ll munch. Luckily, Missouri has more than a dozen kinds of milkweed. Look for it along roadsides and fencerows, in pastures and prairies, and at the edges of fields, woods, and wet areas. For identification help, search for “milkweed” at mdc.mo.gov.
Pick Some Pods
In the fall, milkweeds produce pods filled with dozens of fluffy seeds. You can tell seeds are ready when the pod turns grayish-tan, splits open with a gentle squeeze, and the seeds are chocolate-brown. When you find a ripe pod, scoop out the seeds and silk, and place them in a paper bag. Harvest only a few pods from each location. Leave most for nature!
Lose the Fluff
To separate the seeds from the fluffy silk, drop a few pennies in the paper bag, fold down the top, and shake it. Then, snip a small hole in the bottom of the bag so you can pour out the seeds and keep the silks trapped inside.
Sow the Seeds
Fill some flower pots with potting soil. Plastic food containers (like yogurt cups) work well if you poke drain holes in the bottom. Place a few seeds on top of the soil (about one seed per inch). Sprinkle a little soil over the seeds and press down firmly.
Set the pots outside in an exposed, sunny location. Cold weather won’t kill the seeds. In fact, ice, snow, and rain will help “wake” them up so they’ll sprout in the spring.
Plant the Sprouts
When the sprouts have grown at least three pairs of leaves, you can gently transplant them to a sunny, weed-free location in your yard. Milkweed is a perennial, which means it will grow back every spring.
Watch for Monarchs
Monarchs return to Missouri by May and begin laying eggs. Watch for females fluttering above your milkweed patch, and check each plant closely for tiny eggs and caterpillars.
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This Issue's Staff
Alexis (AJ) Joyce
Angie Daly Morfeld