Saving Seedlings, Saving the World

Saving Seedlings, Saving the World

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Beyond the campsite’s irrigated lawn, the view of native scrub-covered hills.

Recently I went camping near my new home in Boise. I sat down with a cup of coffee and a notebook in my campsite one morning, enjoying the trilling of a meadowlark and a view of natural scrubland as I pondered (this is one of my favorite activities).

As my eyes roamed leisurely across the lawn on which I sat, what did I spy just next to my lawnchair but a milkweed seedling? After several minutes of scanning, I finally found another seedling about ten feet away. Trouble is, these seedlings were growing in a lawn. That probably meant they would be mowed down.

Can you spot the milkweed seedling growing in the lawn next to my chair?

Here is a closer view; I believe this is showy milkweed, Asclepias speciosa.

My morning became much less pleasant as I contemplated the fate of the monarch butterflies. Will their 2013 migration be the last? Will their iconic annual journey end within my lifetime?

It is only an abundance of milkweed stands throughout their migratory route that enables monarchs to make the arduous journey south. They are so short-lived that it takes up to five generations of butterflies to make the trip. It was discovered in 1976 that survivors spend each winter in one of several absurdly tiny patches of montane forest in Mexico and Southern California.

In hopes of attracting these graceful creatures to my garden, and for the rich sweet scent of its blooms, I had just planted some milkweed in my new courtyard garden. Now that I saw these seedlings that would not ever be allowed to mature, I wished I had planted more.  I don’t want to own the land on which the last migrating monarch dies without being able to find any larval food for her precious eggs.

As I was listing my options in my notebook (sneak out after dark and dig up the seedlings, petition the state park to cordon off the area and let them bloom, visit a garden center for more milkweed as soon as I got home), the park ranger conveniently buzzed past on her four-wheeler. I leapt up and flagged her down and explained that I’d found these milkweed seedlings. Did she know about their connection to monarch butterflies? Oh yes she did. Would that area be mowed? Yes it would. Could I dig up those two seedlings and take them home? Sure, no problem.

Downing the last of my coffee, I rummaged for and found my collapsible shovel (what, you don’t carry one when you go camping?), and soon the two foundlings were packed in the empty mug and settled in the cup holder, ready to begin their own migration. At least now they will have a chance to feed some caterpillars.

Is it too corny to call this a cup of hope?

(By the way, there’s still time! Buy some milkweed plants or sow regionally appropriate seed and you too can be a part of this great natural phenomenon.)

Posted by

Evelyn Hadden
on May 20, 2014 at 11:52 pm, in the category It’s the Plants, Darling, Lawn Reform, What’s Happening.

    • Kari Whitsitt
    • 30th March 2017

    You are so inspirational, Evelyn. I just pulled out two milkweed plants from my front bed. I had no idea. Thank you for the education. I love many “weeds,” but have been conditioned to consider them inappropriate to a garden. I will be enjoying any new milkweeds that pop up in my garden from here on out. I will be able to then glimpse the magic of beautiful butterflies gracing my borrowed piece of earth for a moment.

    • Jen
    • 5th September 2017

    Milkweed flowers are quite lovely and the scent is amazing, so it’s a win-win.

    • Evelyn Hadden
    • 6th September 2017

    How wonderful that your mind is open to a different way of seeing these plants, Kari. I’m betting you won’t be sorry when they bloom.

    • admin
    • 8th September 2017

    Before you transfer them to your garden you may want to make very sure it isn’t dog strangling vine. They look extremely similar. Even to the monarchs. They will lay their eggs on them and then the caterpillars die.

    • Evelyn Hadden
    • 11th September 2017

    That’s an interesting tidbit and was new to me, Lisa. I had to research dog strangling vine (a relative of milkweed — too bad it doesn’t also support the monarch). Thanks for the tip.

    • Sandra Knauf
    • 11th September 2017

    Thank you for this wonderful post. “Cup of hope” is perfect.

    • Evelyn Hadden
    • 11th September 2017

    Thank you, Sandra.

    • Stone
    • 11th September 2017

    That was smart, flagging down the ranger… Don’t want to be arrested for saving plants… Did he give you a permission slip to carry the babies out of the park?

    • Evelyn Hadden
    • 12th September 2017

    Yes, Stone, it would be great if leaving sections unmowed were an option; I have had that conversation with campground owners and rangers for years, and apparently visitors complain if a campground looks too wild. (!)

    • Paul
    • 12th September 2017


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