October is Monarch and Milkweed Month: get free seeds!

150 150 Monarch Research Project

In recognition of October being named “Monarch and Milkweed Month” in Cedar Rapids, residents are invited to request free milkweed seed through a mail-in giveaway.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart signed the National Wildlife Association’s Mayors’ Monarch Pledge in 2021. More than 600 mayors across the nation have signed the pledge.

The pledge commits the city to take actions to help save the iconic monarch butterfly. One such action is this milkweed seed giveaway.

“I grew up in Iowa watching monarch butterflies every year, always amazed by their size and beauty. Now it is rare to see a monarch once a summer,” said Mayor Hart. “The Monarch Pledge I signed this year is a commitment from the city and me to restore natural pollinator habitat in Cedar Rapids to give the monarch butterfly a real chance to bring its beauty back for all to see and enjoy. Thanks to Monarch Research and to everyone who joins us in planting milkweeds in this important effort to bring monarch butterflies back to our great city. “

milkweed pods

Milkweed pods harvested at the Monarch Research Station, Marion IA.

Marion-based Monarch Research Project (MRP) is providing the seed and supplies for the giveaway. The Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) seeds were harvested by volunteers in Linn County. Members of the Cedar Rapids Garden Club will package and fulfill the mailed requests.

“Fall and winter is a terrific time to plant milkweed seed, just like Mother Nature does,” says Clark McLeod, MRP president. “We invite residents to prepare a spot to plant by removing existing vegetation, then plant after a November or December snowfall by sprinkling the seeds on the snow.”

Those interested in receiving 50 Common Milkweed seeds should send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Milkweed Seed Giveaway, 4970 Lakeside Road, Marion, Iowa 52302.  Requests must be received by November 1, 2021. The seeds and planting instructions will be mailed in November.

“Cedar Rapids Garden Club is excited to be involved in the seed giveaway,” said Ann Hammond, Conservation Chair. “Part of our organization's mission to educate members of the community about the environmental benefits of native plants and habitat. Planting milkweed and other native plants is critical to saving the monarch butterfly.  Even a small section in a yard can provide vital food for the monarch caterpillars. Everyone can play a part.”

The Gazette is the media sponsor for the giveaway, with Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust providing financial support.

Several studies have called the loss of milkweed in the Midwest the most important factor in the declining numbers of migrating monarch butterflies. Because monarch butterflies lay eggs on milkweed and the plant is the only food monarch
caterpillars eat, milkweed is a critical part of the monarch life cycle.

In the last 20 years, the population of monarch butterflies in the Midwest has decreased by more than 90 percent. The Cedar Rapids area is situated in one of the major migratory paths for the monarch butterfly and is a vital breeding ground for the species. In March 2018 the Iowa departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources established goals to increase the milkweed count in Iowa to improve the habitat for monarch butterflies. They announced a goal of
adding 127 million stems or about doubling the amount of milkweed in the state.

Iowa State University’s Assistant Professor John M. Pleasants, Ph.D., has estimated that Linn County needs to add 1.5 million stems of milkweed to support a sustainable monarch butterfly population. Cedar Rapids also partners with Monarch Research on the 1,000 Acre Plan, a public-private partnership that adds pollinator habitat in city parks, golf courses and other public properties. During the last five years, 319 acres of pollinator habitat have been planted on Cedar Rapids city properties. During the same time period, Marion has planted 116 acres and Linn County 647 acres of pollinator habitat.