Milkweed for Monarchs

  • Location
    San Luis Obispo, California
  • Status

The Problem

To have more Milkweed plants available for the Monarch Butterflies when they migrate through our city heading for their overwintering spot in Pismo Beach 8 miles to the south of us and down into Mexico. More milkweed is needed in our town so butterflies can lay their eggs on the milkweed and the caterpillars that are born will have milkweed to eat. We want to help the butterfly population improve so that 1 billion Monarch Butterflies will make it to Mexico like they used to in the past.

Our Plan

I will buy Milkweed seeds and germinate them. I also want to give them to my friends, and people in my community and encourage them to plant and care for them. I am hoping to get some friends to help make this project a success. Action and Progress: I have grown the native milkweed Asclepius Fusicularis from seed with the help of a local wholesale nursery. I have given all of the plants away to friends and neighbors. Many of the plants had monarch eggs and/or small caterpillars on the leaves already because I grew the plants next to my own butterfly garden that is very good at attracting Monarchs. I found out that plants with caterpillars really inspired my friends and neighbors to want to learn more about the lifecycle and plight of the Monarch Butterfly. I have been answering many questions about what was happening in their caterpillar's development that leads up to them metamorphosing into a chrysalis. I have help my friends during their caterpillar's chrysalis stage teaching them how to give their caterpillar the best possible chance for survival. For instance, it is important not to disturb a newly eclosed (the word for emerging) butterfly for 3 or 4 hours so their wings can fully form and dry. Another thing I did for this project is to get my own butterfly garden designated by the National Wildlife Federation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat, and registered it with The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. The most exciting news with my project is that my own garden is now an official research site for The Monarch Alert program headed by Dr. Francis Xavier Villablanca at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo! Dr. Villablanca and his research student, Hannah, even came to my house to see my garden when they decided that my butterfly garden would make a good contributor to their research program! We are now all collecting data learned from my garden's caterpillars and chrysalis'! I have been assisting Hannah, who is doing a research project on backyard butterfly gardens regarding the occurrence of the Tachnid Fly and the OE parasite in butterflies that come from my garden. I have helped her with the collection of 5th instar caterpillars that are brought to her lab to eclose. I have also helped her collect chrysalis' that were in my garden. And lastly, I have even assisted in tagging butterflies from my garden so that the research program can better understand where the butterflies go after the leave my garden. We use two different color tags when tagging. We use a blue tag on butterflies that have eclosed in my garden and yellow tags for butterflies who are netted as they fly into my garden. I visited the Monarch Grove State Park and learned from the docents about the lifecycle of the Monarch Butterfly, the Western United State's key role in the southern migration of the Monarch Butterfly and about the key plants necessary to insure the Monarchs have enough host plants (milkweed) for their eggs and caterpillars and nectar plant sources the traveling Monarchs rely on during their southern and northern migrations. I visited a wholesale nursery in my town that grows milkweed and learned how to successfully germinate my milkweed seeds into plants I can distribute. I purchased 20,000 seeds from a wholesale seed farm and took them to a local wholesale nursery that has offered to help me germinate approximately 300 plants while accepting the balance of my seeds as an additional way to help Monarchs because they can grow more plants than I can. By giving these seeds to the wholesale nursery, it helps the monarchs because native milkweed is extremely hard to grow and because they are experts in growing milkweed, I am hoping their successful growing of milkweed will help make more milkweed available to others in California looking to plant milkweed. I currently have 150 small milkweed plants in my backyard near my own butterfly garden; and have about 300 milkweed plants in the greenhouse at a local wholesale nursery growing. Project update: I have now collected the plants from the wholesale nursery who has been so helpful with my project and am finally ready to plant each milkweed plant in separate pots to offer my plants for free to those promising to plant them. My only request from the recipients who take my milkweed plants is a pledge to plant and care for them and letting me know the general vicinity that they will be planting the milkweed plants so I can monitor and map my project's progress and impact. I am hoping that my plants will provide butterflies a lot more milkweed to lay eggs on, so their caterpillars, that only eat milkweed, will be able to turn into butterflies. Another project update: I have started giving out my plants (some have Monarch eggs and/or caterpillars already on them) so my community will be ready for both the Fall and Spring migrations of the Monarchs. I have learned it is important to understand that the California native milkweed should be used in larger restoration projects to try and avoid problems with tropical milkweed giving butterflies the parasite called "OE." If tropical milkweed is used I have learned from the CalPoly Monarch research project that it must be cut back to 2-4" from October to February to avoid the spread of the Oe parasite that is plaguing Monarch Butterflies (especially those involved in the Eastern United States migration). The spread of Oe may be directly related to the use of Tropical Milkweed. Researchers are working hard to understand the relationship between the widespread use of Tropical Milkweed and the increase in Monarch Butterflies affected by Oe. Oe is very bad for Monarchs. It weakens the butterfly's flight muscles which makes them unable to complete their migrations. It is always best to plant native milkweed because its lifecycle is in tune with the lifecycle of the monarch migration. Tropical varieties do not die back because they are a perennial and this allows Oe to accumulate on the plant's leaves all year round and spreads the parasite more effectively. Project Update: On November 21, 2017, 11 year old Genevieve Leroux, is going to receive a Proclamation from the Mayor of San Luis Obispo, California when Mayor Heidi Harmon takes the National Wildlife Federation's Mayors' Monarch Pledge. Genevieve wrote the Mayor this summer and asked for a meeting to discuss the Mayors' willingness to take the NWF's Mayors' Monarch Pledge. After meeting in person with the Mayor, Mayor Harmon agreed to take the Mayors' Monarch Pledge. The Mayor has met with SLO's Natural Resource Manager, and CalPoly's Monarch Alert head researcher to decide which action steps were suitable for this region relative to helping the Western Migratory Monarch Butterfly. The Mayors' Monarch Butterfly Pledge is part of a national movement to help save the threatened Western Migratory Monarch Butterfly. According to the Xerces Society, the California Western Migratory Monarch Butterfly overwintering population has declined by 74%. This same species is currently projected to experience quasi-extinction in the next 20 years if steps are not taken to save this iconic butterfly. This sad projection is why highlighting Mayor Heidi Harmon taking the Mayors' Monarch Pledge is an important story. San Luis Obispo plays an integral role in the lifecycle of the Monarch Butterfly. SLO County provides both a migratory route for Monarchs heading south, and provides 39 separate overwintering sites (like Pismo Monarch Grove). The actions steps taken by the Mayor, as a part of the Mayors' Pledge, are essential to educate the citizens of SLO about the Monarch's plight and what they can do to help the Monarch avoid extinction. As a side note, Genevieve Leroux was featured in the National Wildlife Federation's blog during the May 2017 Gardening for Wildlife Month's salute to Butterfly Super Heroes and will be featured again, only this time in their nationally syndicated magazine, in their upcoming May Special Edition for Gardening for Wildlife. This article will spotlight 4 individuals from North America that are champion wildlife gardeners. Genevieve is a six grader and performs citizen science for CalPoly's Monarch Alert under the direction of Francis Villablanca, PhD. She tags, takes Oe samples and processes other data from butterflies that visit and/or eclose in her garden for the Monarch Alert citizen science project. In November, 2017 Genevieve participated in training by the Xerces Society to take part of The Monarch Butterfly Thanksgiving Count which has been providing population numbers at all of the California overwintering sites since 1997. Genevieve also helped count a brand new overwintering site in the city of San Luis Obispo during the Xerces Society New Years Monarch Count. For further information on the NWF's Mayors' Monarch Pledge go to For further information on the Western Migratory Monarch Butterfly please go to the The Xerces Society website For information regarding CalPoly Monarch Alert's Western Migratory Monarch citizen science opportunities go to I hope this project inspires other people in my community, and others, to plant native milkweed to help the Monarch population to increase in number! The butterflies need our help. They can't do it themselves! If you are a kid or young adult that would like to join this project, please feel free to sign up with this Roots and Shoots project or start your own. It is so much fun to realize you can do something that can help! Project Update: Genevieve received the Mayors Monarch Pledge Proclamation in November, 2017. G will now assist the City of San Luis Obispo's Natural Resource Manager, Bob Hill, in building demonstrator gardens and find ways to provide more pollinator habitat for Monarchs, bees and other pollinators throughout the city. Project Update: In an effort to spread the word to her friends at school, Genevieve has given a Monarch Butterfly tagging/processing demontration at her elementary school: Bellevue Santa Fe Charter School. Her school has now been officially certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a Certified School Wildlife Habitat! Yaaay! Check out the NWF's website to see how you can do this with your own school! It is fun, easy and educational! Project Update: The National Wildlife Federation's Magazine's 2018 Special Issue on Gardening for Wildlife will include a story on Genevieve's expansive work with Monarch Butterflies. Don't miss it! Project Update: Genevieve took time out to host her own screening party for the movie " Jane." She had a lot of fun introducing the life and works of her hero, Dr Jane Goodall, by inviting some of her girlfriends to watch with her. Science Girl Power! Project Update: Genevieve has set up a meeting for April 25, 2018 with San Luis Obispo Mayor, Mayor Heidi Harmon, the City of San Luis Obispo's Biologist, Freddie Otte, to discuss projects that implement the Mayor's Monarch Pledge. Genevieve has 1 lb of native milkweed seeds to donate to the City to use in demonstration pollinator gardens and at other local sites that could help bolster native milkweed plants within the city of San Luis Obispo. Project Update: I was invited by "Love SLO" to help paint a Monarch Butterfly mural at The SLO Guild Hall's demonstration pollinator garden by event organizer Scott Cam. This event was part of a city-wide volunteer service day. I had so much fun painting the mural and labeling rocks for plants in the garden! Project Update: I have a meeting set with our Mayor Heidi Harmon, and our City Biologist, Freddie Otte, on April 25, 2018 to discuss plans for city-wide demonstration gardens and other ways to provide Migratory Monarch buttterfy waystations throughout the city of San Luis Obispo. In addition to having native milkweed seeds to donate to this project, I have germinated hundreds of native milkweed plants for use in this city-wide project. to the City of San Luis Obispo. I am so excited to get these projects started! -G Project update: Freddy Otte came to my home, where I have been germinating native Asclepius fascicularis (narrow-leafed milkweed). We put 300+ into his truck! He took the small plants to "Growing Grounds Nursery" where the city has a contract to grow plants being used by the city of San Luis Obispo for a variety of reasons. Growing grounds will transplant my little plants into bigger pots and grow them a little more so they will have a better chance of surviving in the wild. My native milkweed is going to be used in demonstration gardens to educate our community about the need for milkweed and pollinator gardens in our city. Freddy told me he plans to put some of my plants in a new restoration project along the railroad safety trail here in SLO. I am so glad my plants will be used in such important projects that are designed to help the Western Migratory Monarch Butterfly! ~G Project update: I helped my science/garden teacher at school find homes for the plants we grew this year using my seeds. Teachers, students and parents took plants home to plant and take care of this summer. Because my school is being renovated this summer, and our garden is being moved, we needed to give the plants away. After everyone was gone, my mom helped me put the leftover plants into 6 packs and we took about 100 plants to my friend who needed native milkweed to give to her school Teach Elementary in SLO. Teach is planting a native pollinator garden and need native milkweed. So now I helped another school get involved with helping the Monarch Butterfly! ~G Project update: 8/2/18 I have relocated to Gatineau, Quebec, Canada near Ottawa Ontario and I am continuing my participation in citizen science with researchers studying the Eastern Migratory Monarch Butterfly. Interestingly, I now live in a place where Migratory Monarch Butterflies begin and finish their complex migration to and from Mexico. In San Luis Obispo, I was working with Monarch Butterfly populations that were overwintering. I have begun to reach out to researchers here in my new home to continue helping with Monarch Butterfly conservation. Last weekend, I joined with "The Friends of Gatineau Park" to help with a citizen science opportunity here in Quebec. I helped with an Eastern Migratory Monarch Butterfly larvae survey in nearby Gatineau National Park. We spent the day measuring the amount of caterpillars, eggs and adults seen in the fields of milkweed we were assigned. Next, I plan to ask the mayor of my new city (Gatineau, QC) and the mayor of Ottawa, ON to take the Mayors' Monarch Pledge. I am going to work hard to get my new community involved the the protection of the Eastern Migratory Monarch Butterfly. I especially want to get kids my own age more involved. I believe we are the generation that is going to save the Migratory Monarch on both sides of the Continental Divide! ~ G Project Update: I assisted The Friends of Gatineau Park again today. Along with a small group of volunteers, I spent the morning meticulously scouring hundreds of Common Milkweed plants for Monarch Butterflies, their eggs and caterpillars (larva). Our group spotted 3 Monarch Butterflies, a few caterpillars and a few eggs in a transect of land located near the Luskville Falls trailhead. Hopefully, the citizen science data we collected will be useful to researchers here in Canada. It is so much fun to learn about the Eastern Migratory Monarch and get involved with groups here in Canada that are trying to save the Monarch! Next week my mom is going to take me to Fletcher Gardens in Ottawa. The gardens are cared for by the Ottawa Field Naturalist Club. They have installed a Monarch demonstration garden and I am hoping to learn more about the native milkweed and nectaring plants that the Eastern Monarch uses hear in Quebec and Ontario, Canada. I have started planting a new pollinator garden at my new home here in Quebec and plan to create a project that will help bring butterfly/pollinator conservation to my new community. ~ G

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