Taking Flight!

butterfliesThe last few years have seen devastating declines in the Monarch Butterfly’s population, with encroaching development in the U.S. and deforestation in Mexico. When Milford Garden Club member Lisa Willard suggested a speaker on the topic of the Monarch and its plight, as well as having club members take on the rebuilding of its habit here in Milford, Michigan, I was thrilled. Considering her request brought to mind an unforgettable experience my hubby, Jim and I had when we took a trip to Mexico back in March 2001 where we visited three Monarch sanctuaries where millions of butterflies come to overwinter. That experience made such an impact on me that I knew I wanted to attempt to see if other club members and the board would be interested in a project that through Lisa’s suggestion would present a wonderful opportunity for our club members to act on behalf of this precious species in our little corner of Michigan.

My memories of the Monarch came from a phenomenal adventure we had driving up the mountainside to visit the Monarch sanctuaries . . . that I share below with excerpts from my travel journal:

“Butterflies started to appear, increasing more and more . . . doubling and quadrupling as we twisted, turned, bumped and jostled up the mountainside in the back of a pickup truck and then higher riding on horseback. Our eyes were drawn to a distant scene. It was a stand of evergreen trees that were completely ORANGE . . . like burned dried up dead trees. It took some seconds until we realized in amazement that those wMonarch4eren’t dead trees, they were The Monarchs that we’d come to see. It was a most striking and unforgettable sight”. Those memories are still vivid in our minds to this day. “Hiking higher to reach our destination, our attempts to sidestep and not squash the Monarchs became more and more difficult. We had to slow our pace to a crawl. Monarchs were EVERYWHERE!!! We saw them covering the ground drinking water from puddles, perching on anything and everything as well as landing on us. It was a DELIGHT – one of those exceptional experiences – an experience of a lifetime. The air was ALIVE with movement and the sound of their wings. AND most marvelous of all was when we saw them cascading out of the trees”—a most amazing phenomena where tens of thousands of butterflies (and I’m not exaggerating) would suddenly lift up from their perches, en masse, and fall downwards for 15 or so feet in tandem, then all flying in unison all moving in the same direction for several minutes, until they dispersed and landed again on the leaves or branches or trunks of trees or whatever.

Check out this video to see scenes that show just what we experienced in Mexico—you’ll be amazed: http://youtu.be/adB638SIE1k.

When the idea of helping the Monarch was raised to the membership, needless to say, we had an outpouring of support from our enthusiastic members! Several members volunteered to head up our eight committees—yaaay! Many members signed up to work establishing a butterfly garden in Arthur’s Park and planting milkweed in the Village of Milford. Even our village municipality was willing to help us find sites-fantastic! From volunteering to do research and writing articles, put on presentations, helping a preschool design a butterfly garden, packaging milkweed seeds, making displays, speaking to visitors at our Earth Day celebration and the Garden Club’s Plant and Bake Sale -and- even making GIANT Monarch butterfly wings that members will wear to draw attention of our events, our efforts were underway.

As a result of Lisa’s request, my beautiful Monarch memories and willing enthusiastic garden club members and the board, the Milford Garden Club Monarch Caper project has TAKEN FLIGHT. I am very proud to be working with everyone as the Monarch Caper Coordinator and I want to send THANKS to ALL in the Milford Garden Club for making our ‘MONARCH PROJECT’ possible. Check back with us frequently to see what we are doing for the Monarch in Milford.

Kathy Mikuska-Vice-President of Programs

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Monarch Caterpillar Siting Augustg 2015!

Monarch CaterplillarMilford garden club member, Teresa Smith,  shared this photo of an advanced stage Monarch caterpillar on a milkweed plant on the morning of August 9th at the Discover Preschool Butterfly Garden at Highland United Methodist Church. Later the same day she also saw an adult Monarch butterfly in flight! Two more gardeners, Martha Klemmer and Sue Tompkins, also reported seeing Monarch butterflies in their gardens.
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Spreading the Word at the 2014 Milford Garden Walk

MonarchKarol LaHaie, Sandy Riss, Jim Mikuska and I spread the word about the decline of the Monarch butterfly populations, encouraging the community to help plant milkweed seeds as well as urging a halt to herbicides and pesticides at the annual Milford Garden Walk on June 21st.

Those who visited the Monarch exhibit were VERY interested in helping the Monarch butterfly make a comeback in Michigan.  Most eagerly took home the free seeds our Milford Garden Club was giving away for Orange Butterfly Milkweed and Rose or Swamp Milkweed.  They looked forward to planting the seeds in their gardens and were glad we told them the importance of planting them this fall after a hard frost so the seeds would germinate after being exposed to the cold wet conditions of winter.  They were interested in watching our progress at Arthur Park with the planting of our butterfly garden.

They were very interested in learning about the problem the Monarch is having because of the decline in habitat in North America as well as how herbicide & pesticide use adversely impacts the Monarch as it travels to its overwintering site in Mexico.

They were amazed to learn that the Monarch can travel up to 3000 miles on its trek south and that milkweed is the ONLY plant that the Monarch lays eggs on and the ONLY plant the caterpillar will eat.

The girls were eager to help by planting milkweed seeds in their garden.They were excited to get their hand stamped with a butterfly and pose for photos wearing the Monarch butterfly wings.

MANY THANKS to Karol LaHaie, Sandy Riss and Jim Mikuska as well as to Maryann Fraser for being our Mascot Monarch in the giant Monarch wings she made!

Thanks to Jan, Jim and Molly Niebauer, we had a comfortable shady spot in a beautiful garden for our Monarch display table! THANK YOU Jan and Jim!

Thanks to Jan, Jim and Molly Niebauer, we had a comfortable shady spot in a beautiful garden for our Monarch display table! THANK YOU Jan and Jim!

Read their impressions of the day:

Karole LaHaie:
I was busy most all the time.  Lots of people stopped to talk Monarchs and many were already well informed.  Those who weren’t, seemed genuinely interested and many people stayed around for a lot of chatting.  Most were eager to use the seeds we offered.  I’d call it a big success and good PR for our club.

Sandy Riss:
It was just the MOST beautiful day for our annual Garden Walk.  The weather was perfect, sunny and not too hot with a gentle breeze.  It was Michigan at its finest.  We were graced with a steady stream of visitors to our exhibit in a shady alcove at Jan’s garden.  It was a pleasure to interact with so many people interested in what is happening to the beautiful Monarch butterfly.  When visitors learned about the importance of the fourth Monarch generation and the significant decrease in local habitat, most everyone expressed an interest in helping create additional habitat on their properties.  We discussed all types of milkweed plants suitable for planting in semi-shady, forest-edge, large open land tracts, sunny spots in front and back yards and containers on a sunny deck.  Being able to show a blooming Asclepias tuberosa plant in bloom was a huge advantage.  We educated and distributed site-appropriate seed to many and could have sold many pots of milkweed plants.  MGC definitely needs have potted plants for sale at next year’s Plant & Bake Sale and available at the Garden Walk.  There is certainly enough local interest.

Jim Mikuska:
It was an enjoyable afternoon ‘flying around’ Niebauer’s garden and talking to people who seemed genuinely interested in helping the project.  Kathy and I enjoyed seeing the girls try on the butterfly wings and having their pictures taken by their mom. (THANKS, Samantha for sending the photos.)  Now I’m looking forward to spending my winter in Mexico.

MaryannMaryann Fraser:
I was happy to share with the adults how Milkweed is essential to the Monarch Butterfly’s survival because that is the only plant on which they lay their eggs and on which their larva feed.  I explained that Milkweed seed needs to be planted in the fall after a hard frost and passed out seeds according to wet or dry soil conditions.  Children enjoyed the large Monarch wings I wore.  I loved giving the younger children a page to color and stamping their hand with a butterfly. It made us both smile.

THANKS to Sandy and Tom Riss for lending their table & beautiful sign and helping Jim and I set up and tear down the display.  THANK YOU to Ellen Collins for donating the cost of the materials for the Monarch display and to Teresa Smith for the envelopes for the milkweed seeds.

Kathy Mikuska


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Book “Flight Behavior” Depicts Effects of Climatic Change on the Monarch

FlightBehavior-book-coverLooking for something interesting to read I picked up Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.  From the title I assumed that it was about obnoxious airplane passengers, but imagine my surprise as I got into the book and discovered that the main drift  is climate change and its affect on Monarch butterflies.  Kingsolver is very concerned about our food supply (read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) and now has taken on climate change.

Tina-Schave-readsThe book is about a young mother in the  Tennessee farm country who discovers the butterflies resting on her family’s property as they usually do in Mexico.  As word gets out, scientists arrive to study and ponder the phenomenon.  Meanwhile, her daily life goes on as usual–children, husband, in-laws, friends–but her life has a new purpose and meaning.

Since I’m only half-way through, this is the end of my synopsis, but it can only get better–the tension is rising.
Tina Schave

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Preparing to “Take Flight” for the Butterfly Awareness Campaign!

Plans continued at the April 2 follow-up ‘Take FlightFollow-up 'Take Flight' Meeting 001‘ meeting of chairpersons for our ‘Club Project’ to help the Monarch Butterfly.  To spark the interest of Milford villagers so they join us in our conservation endeavor, we have been preparing a colorful display and materials to accompany milkweed seeds that we will be giving away at:
•YMCA Earth Day on Sunday, April 27, 12 noon to 4 p.m.
•Milford Garden Club’s Plant & Bake Sale, Saturday, May 10, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
•Milford Garden Club’s Garden Walk, Saturday, June 21, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Hope to see you there!

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Getting the Milkweed Seeds Ready!

Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa

Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa

Rose Milkweed Asclepias incarnata:

Rose Milkweed Asclepias incarnata:

I was SO excited when the milkweed seeds I ordered from Prairie Moon Nursery http://www.prairiemoon.com arrived.

They were chosen because unlike common milkweed that tend to go everywhere in your garden, these will stay put in a nice clump that slowly expand.  The word Asclepias (ah sclee pee us) is starting to roll smoothly off my tongue now!
I was surprised when I opened the packages to see how the seeds differed in size.

Asclepias tuberosa seeds

Asclepias tuberosa seeds

asclepias incarnata seeds

asclepias incarnata seeds

My next task was to stratify them because milkweed seed need 30 days of exposure to cold moist conditions so they will germinate.  The process is called stratification.  This happens naturally outdoors in the fall when the seedpods burst open and the seeds fly on their little parachutes falling to the ground to be exposed to cold and moisture over the winter.  If you don’t want to wait until next year (are an impatient gardener like me) and want to get started planting this spring or summer, stratification can be done artificially by:

•taking ¼ cup clean sand (can be purchased at a pet store) dumping it into a sandwich size plastic bag
•adding ¼ teaspoon of hot water, kneading the water into the sand
•adding the seeds to the water sand mixture, shaking the bag so all the seeds are covered by sand
•labeling the bag with the name of your seed, pressing the air out and securely closing the bag
•putting all in the refrigerator for 30 days, being sure there are NO apples or other fruits in the refrigerator with your seed because ripening fruit gives off ethylene gas that will KILL your seed.

Click on this link to watch a 2 ½ minute video that shows how to stratify your seeds:
Have FUN!
Check back to our blog to see how to plant your seeds once they are stratified.

Kathy Mikuska, Monarch Caper Club Project Coordinator

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Reviews Are In-Go See The Flight of the Monarch Butterflies Movie!

Club members at movie showing.

Club members at movie showing.

Last Saturday, a dozen of us went down to the Henry Ford IMAX to see “The Flight of the Butterflies” in 3-D. The release of the movie’s timing was a perfect entrée for our club as we gear up our efforts to help the monarchs’ habit here in Milford. The movie’s production team filmed hundreds of millions of monarchs in their overwintering sanctuaries in Mexico in 2011 and  2012 as well as their  migratory routes from Canada, across the U.S. and into Mexico. “Awe-inspiring, breathtaking, stunning.” See more comments from our members:

“I saw the movie Flight of the Butterflies with our group on Saturday at the Henry Ford Imax Theatre.  That was two days ago, and I am still in a state of amazement from the experience.  The word that comes to mind is TRANSFORMATION.  The monarch butterflies undergo a physical transformation, but it is the viewer who also experiences a personal transformation from having little knowledge about these amazing life forms to realizing they are superstars of nature that must be protected.  The movie also takes you on the trail of a mystery to be solved and two personal love stories.   Wow, I was not expecting  that.  (That is a word I kept repeating in my head as the movie unfolded- WOW!).   I had not been to a 3D movie in years and had forgotten how amazing that experience is.  I immediately reached out my hand to try and touch the butterflies only minutes into the film.  The viewer is totally transported into the Monarch world, and it is an amazing place to be.  I am very proud that our club is joining the battle to save their habitat.  I encourage you to see this movie.  Bring your children and grandchildren so they can begin to understand what is in their own backyard  and how far the butterflies travel to complete their life cycle.”   

–Sue Griffor

“Flight of the Monarchs, presented at the Henry Ford Theater was truly inspirational.  The IMAX format brought me right into the Monarch butterflies swarming in the forest trees-a sight I haven’t enjoyed for many years.  Our family’s annual fishing trip to Michigan ’s upper peninsula brought us to the forest at the time the Monarchs were on their annual southern migratory path.  There were so many of them, a sight to behold dancing among the tall trees.  I would always become concerned when a single Monarch or two would “rest” on our boat in the middle of the bay, being so far from the safety of land.  We would always try to hustle them to shore-especially if the fishing was not very successful.  As their populations declined, this wonderful experience vanished.  There are always a few Monarchs, but that splendid early-autumn dance is gone.  I hope it is not lost forever.  It is truly worth saving to share with future “kids” of all ages.” 

–Sandy & Tom Riss

“I always wanted to go to the IMAX theater and now it is off my bucket list.   I loved the 3-D effect and felt I could practically catch a butterfly from my seat.  I was so impressed with the photography and just enjoyed the beauty of the scenery.   Fascinated by the close up shots of the butterfly in all its stages and the information.   Impressed that the gentleman, Dr. Fred Urquhart, would spend just about his whole life studying the Monarch and what a nice ending – to find a Monarch he tagged in all those millions of butterflies.”

–Martha Klemmer

Go to http://www.thehenryford.org/events/butterflies.aspx for information on hours and tickets at The Henry Ford IMAX.

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Action Alert-Make A Difference Now!

img003In the 20 years since environmentalists began keeping detailed records of the monarch’s winter habitats, the butterflies have covered as much as 45 acres of forest in Mexico. Today it is down to 1.6 acres! To stop any further deterioration, action is needed now! President Obama recently visited the Mexican city of Toluca in February, not far from the monarch preserve, to meet with the director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Mexico office to agree on a plan to protect the monarch. Hopefully, these will be ongoing talks. You can help keep the focus on this very important issue . Go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments.   In the comments section, briefly explain what the problem is and why it is so important that we address the issue before it is too late.

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