Scoring Milkweed

My recent endeavors in the Natural State have lead me in a pursuit of collecting the Monarch-necessary Milkweeds.  Monarchs have experienced a sharp decline in the most recent decades due to an array of pressures.  These pressures range from habitat loss, due to the agricultural-related land management, to droughts influenced by climate change. Given that Arkansas lies within the spring breeding area, it is becoming increasingly apparent that an initiative to assure the ample supply of Milkweed is placed in motion.  Monarch’s not only rely on Milkweeds for nectar sources to complete their migration journey (from Canada and North America to the Oyamel Fir forests in central Mexico in the fall) but as a site to lay their eggs – they are the only species Monarch’s prefer.  Additionally, as the offspring emerge, the plant serves as a source of nourishment.   It may confidently be stated that Milkweeds are essential for their survival.

The project I have been working on is establishing a Milkweed plot.  The necessary requirements lie with not only sourcing a location, but sourcing seeds possessing the local genotype.  Recently, individual gardeners, homeowners, etc, who have decided to plant Milkweeds (be it aesthetics purposes, or a desire to attract Monarchs) have unfortunately planted Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), which flowers at incompatible times of the year, deterring Monarch’s from remaining on their crucial migration path, but it also carries a parasite, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, which infects the chrysalis, imposing on the health and success of the developing butterflies.  Often, these infections render the emerging Monarch less fit, reducing their chances of completing the migration and breaking the delicate link.

I’ve taken it upon myself to search for Milkweeds within the Ozark-St. Francis forests through an efforts driving to various locations, and with the much appreciated assistance of Forest Service employees who have caught sight of Milkweeds during their own projects. After recording the location of spotted populations I have either collected the pods, or tagged under-developed pods, with intentions of returning at a later date.

With these seeds, I plan on planting them into the aforementioned Milkweed plot, in hopes of creating a seed source. This source will prove as a living bank, which may be utilized to rehabilitate populations within restoration areas amongst the forest.  This plot will be placed within close proximity to one of the district offices.  The easily accessible location will assure that routine maintenance will be manageable, and time-efficient.

It is my hope that this project will serve as a pivotal addition to the Ozark-St. Francis district, providing a tool for restoration as well as emphasizing genetic security.

Below are photos of a Monarch, as well as a caterpillar spotted on Asclepias incarnate, while collecting pods!

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