Restoring Monarch Butterflies by Planting Milkweed

A Project of the Chebeague and Cumberland Land Trust

Introduction and Background

 

The Chebeague and Cumberland Land Trust is undertaking a project to help restore the monarch butterfly population in North America.  Once a common feature of summers in the United States, the monarch butterfly population has declined swiftly and dramatically.  The number of monarchs that arrived in Mexico this past winter during their annual migration hit its lowest level since 1993—when scientists first started counting them.  In 2010, researchers at the University of Northern Iowa counted 176 monarchs in 100 acres of prairie grasses; in 2013, they found only 11.  Anecdotal evidence from Chebeague and Cumberland mirrors these findings. 

There are numerous reasons for this decline.  Drought, storms, illegal logging in Mexico, and pesticides are among the culprits.  But the greatest threat is the butterfly’s dwindling habitat in the United States, primarily in the Midwest and Great Plains. Milkweed plants are the only plants on which monarchs lay their eggs and, since 2000, 180 million acres of this habitat have been lost, a 30 percent decline.  Scientists agree, though, that monarchs are resilient and, despite the very serious threat they currently face, providing more milkweed plants, even in areas like New England that are not along their primary migration routes, will have a substantial beneficial impact on the numbers of monarchs. 

 

Goals of the First Year of the Project

 

The twin goals of the first year of this CCLT project are (1) to establish milkweed plots on selected properties and (2) to learn more about planting techniques and other factors that contribute to successful “crops” of milkweed.  We have enlisted several private property owners to participate and intend also to plant milkweed on suitable CCLT protected properties.

 

(Planting numerous small plots of milkweed around Chebeague Island and Cumberland is an appropriate approach, because milkweed restoration efforts do not have to be done on a large scale to be effective.  In fact, scientists say it is better to have small, scattered sites because big stands of milkweed attract predators and parasites.)

 

Help from CCLT Stewards

 

There are five things that stewards can do to help this project:

(1)  Determine whether the property for which you are responsible is suitable for planting milkweed.  Milkweed requires full sun, so wooded properties would not be appropriate.

(2)  Contact the property owner to get permission to plant milkweed.

(3)  Contact Carl Tubbesing, Secretary of CCLT, to make arrangements to obtain the seeds or plants. (See below.)

(4)  Plant the milkweed.

(5)  Check on the plot occasionally to see whether the milkweed is growing and, later in the summer, to see whether there are monarchs or monarch caterpillars. 

Planting Methods

There are two ways to plant milkweed—direct seeding and starting seeds in small pots for transplanting.  CCLT has approximately 1800 seeds available for direct seeding and we are attempting to start 180-200 plants in pots that we hope to transplant to appropriate plots once they are ready.

Direct seeding involves the following steps:

(1)  Select one or more locations in a field or garden.

(2)  Prepare the soil by removing grass and other plants, then turning and breaking up the dirt.  Enriching the soil with compost is helpful.

(3)  Place the seeds on top of the prepared soil 8” – 12” apart.

(4)  Cover the seeds with ¼ inch soil.

(5)  Water.

(6)  Germination should occur in about two weeks. 

CCLT will supply small flags for marking the plots and assisting in monitoring the success of the plantings. 

Workshop

 

CCLT is planning a workshop on monarchs to be held on Chebeague in July or August.  Details about the workshop will be available shortly.

 

Additional Information

 

“For declining monarchs, a critical lifeline,” Portland Press-Herald, February 16, 2014.

“Setting the Table for a Regal Butterfly Comeback, With Milkweed,” New York Times, December 21, 2013.

Monarch Watch.  http://www.monarchwatch.org/

Helen Frost and Leonid Gore, Monarch and Milkweed (Atheneum Press, 2008).  Children’s book. 

 

April 18, 2014

Carl Tubbesing (carldt@gwi.net; [207] 239-1962)