Monarch Butterflies & Milkweed Restoration

Monarch Butterflies & Milkweed Restoration

A Monarch butterfly on milkweed. Photo by Elizabeth Howard, founder of Journey North.

The Mind-Boggling, Magical Journey of a Monarch

Monarch butterflies migrate from Vermont (and other northern regions) 2500 miles south to Mexico every year at this time. In the spring and summer they return- that’s an annual journey of 5000 miles! The butterflies migrate to the exact same tree each and every year. In order to make the trip without literally falling apart, they reproduce 4 times en-route so it's actually the 4th generation that returns to Mexico every winter.

The Monarch Population is in Free Fall

Last month I wrote about monarchs and the 90% drop in their population over the last few years. "In human-population terms it would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio” according to Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. The free fall is largely due to recent decimation of the butterfly's habitat and food source, milkweed.

Milkweed and Monarch Butterflies | Vernon, Vermont

I recruited (somewhat skeptical) staff members at Vermont Woods Studios to help collect milkweed seeds. We gathered over 1000 seedpods and separated the seeds from their fuzzy parachutes.

A Milkweed SeedBank is Born in Vermont

After researching the Monarch's plight, I couldn't live with myself if I didn't at least try to do something to help. So last weekend I spent much of my time wandering through an empty lot on Rt 142 in Vernon, collecting milkweed seeds. I recruited Dennis, Kelsey and Nina to help me. Realtor, David Berrie of Berrie Real Estate in Newfane, VT owns the lot and he was kind enough to allow us to "take all the milkweed you want!" I think that ended up being about 1000 seedpods. The Nature Institute estimates there are an average of 226 seeds in each milkweed pod so we probably harvested around a quarter of a million seeds. We'll keep them on hand for awhile in case anyone in the area would like to plant some. Otherwise we'll donate the seeds to Monarch Watch, an organization that maintains a free milkweed seed bank.

Milkweed Seed Bank at Stonehurst

Even Pepper pitched in as we worked well into the night hours separating seeds.

Sowing the Seeds: A Trial Run

Sowing Milkweed Seeds at Malhana Farm

Annette and Fia helped me with a trial run at Malhana Farm. It was a beautiful Fall day for planting milkweed!

Annette volunteered to sow milkweed seeds in a couple of her pastures at Malhana farm and I did the same in the meadows at Stonehurst. Now we wait until the spring to see what comes up.

I hope you'll think the monarch's mind-boggling, magical phenomenon is worth conserving! Please spread the word and join scientists, conservationists, teachers, road crews and nature lovers in planting milkweed in backyards, gardens, fields and highway medians. Need seeds? Let me know on Facebook.

To learn more, visit the Journey North website, founded by Elizabeth Howard of Norwich, VT or any of these organizations that are working hard to keep the Monarch alive:

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Peggy Farabaugh

She is a CEO who brakes for salamanders, has bottle-fed rescued squirrels and spent her vacation building furniture for a rural school in Costa Rica. She believes in the future and in the people who will build it. A former distance-learning professor at Tulane University with a master’s in environmental health & safety, she turned an interest in forest conservation and endangered species into a growing, local business. She delivers rainforest statistics at breakneck speed, but knows how to slow down and appreciate the beauty of a newly finished piece of heirloom furniture.

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