Native Milkweed Seed Needed to Help Save Monarch Butterflies
- Monarch butterfly populations are declining, in part due to declining milkweed populations
- Few commercial sources for milkweed seed are available for the Southeastern regions
- The Xerces Society has funding to increase seed sources, and is collecting seed now
- The seed of the aquatic milkweed, Asclepias perennis is scarce this year, and they are seeking our help in locating and collecting seed from this plant
|Swamp milkweed, Asclepias perennis|
Jeff McMillian@USDA-NRCS PLANTS DATABASE
The species is currently flowering and producing fruit.
If you can locate a plant on private land and are willing to collect some seed and donate it to the project, it would be immensely helpful! Jeff Norcini, who is helping with the search, has provided some advice to help determine when the fruits are mature and ready for seed collection.
|Immature pod of A perennis Shirley Denton, FNPS|
- immature pods are grass green and gradually darken a bit as they mature
- pods take about 2.5 to 3.5 weeks to mature after the fruit first forms
- mature pods will pop open when pressure is applied to the pod suture
|Swamp milkweed in water Shirley Denton, FNPS|
Brianna Borders, who is now holding the job of Xerces' first dedicated plant ecologist, (insects do need their native plants!) spoke with us yesterday to explain the situation. Intensifying agriculture, development of rural lands, and increased use of herbicide and mowing along roadsides have all reduced the abundance of milkweed in the landscape. Unfortunately a known source of swamp milkweed was mowed down earlier this month, preventing Dr. Norcini from obtaining seeds there. As most of our readers probably know, milkweed is an obligate host plant for Monarchs. The monarch caterpillars must hatch out on milkweed, which is the only plant they can eat.
Here in the Southeast, we are somewhat behind our neighbors in the mid-Atlantic and mid-west, where commercial sources of milkweed seed are readily available. In order to increase the commercial availability of milkweed seed, Xerces has obtained funding from several sources, including the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service). They also have joined with the Monarch Joint Venture, a partnership of federal and state agencies, NGOs and academic programs that are working together to support and coordinate efforts to protect the monarch migration across the lower 48 states.
|Fall migration of Monarch butterfly|
There is only one species, but it is divided into an eastern
and a western population
Brianna emphasized that it is extremely important to obtain true Florida ecotype seeds. If you purchased your plants or seeds from an online vendor, they may not have originated here and would be unsuitable. After the seeds are collected, in Florida they will be grown out by the NRCS Plants Material Center in Brooksville. I had never heard of the NRCS' Plant Materials Program, which Brianna explained as an organization working on developing plants to solve conservation problems. And thank goodness for that!!
As the seed base is increased, the first recipients will be agencies and organizations that are conducting large scale restoration endeavors, to ensure that the greatest amount of land is covered by the new milkweed plants. Brianna says, "We have a small amount of Asclepias perennis seed that we will use to initiate seed increase for the species, but to maximize our efforts, we could really use some additional seed."
Here is regional, county-level map from the Florida Atlas of Vascular plant for swamp milkweed:
Regional map for Asclepias perennis
You can search Craig Huegel's blog for more ID photos, and other types of milkweed:
Read about ecotypes:
Time is short, collecting on public lands requires lengthy permitting processes; please look around and see if you can help. Seed should be saved at room temperature in a paper bag, no plastic, and contact Brianna for instructions on where to ship. She can help reimburse mailing costs if needed.
|Monarch caterpillars MUST have milkweed!|
Toll free: 1-855-232-6639
Be a part of the solution!