A seed mix favorable for monarchs and other pollinators will be given away for free to residents of Linn County, Iowa. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

The Monarch Research Project, a nonprofit based in Marion, Iowa, is distributing free milkweed and pollinator seeds during “The Million Seed Giveaway.”

They had a good crowd this past Saturday and hope for more of the same this upcoming Saturday, May 12.

The pollinator seed mix was created by the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation with 40 varieties of plants native to Linn County, including milkweed seed harvested last fall at Clearwater Farm in Marion.

Linn County residents are invited to pick up the free seed this Saturday, May 12, 2018, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Clearwater Farm, 4970 Lakeside Road, Marion.

Learn more from the Monarch Research Project:

A tall milkweed plant reaches for the sun in a backyard in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Milkweed serves as the sole host plant for monarch caterpillars. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

MARION, Iowa—The Monarch Research Project (MRP) will distribute free milkweed and pollinator seed on May 5 and 12 to Linn County residents. The seed for “The Million Seed Giveaway” has been cold-stratified and is ready to plant this spring.

Employees of Monsanto, Williamsburg, volunteered to harvest the common milkweed seed in fall 2017 at Clearwater Farm in Marion. Two buses of Monsanto employees first harvested the seed pods, and then removed the seeds from the silky thread attached to each seed.

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.

The pollinator seed mix was selected by Joe McGovern, president of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, and includes 40 plant varieties that are native to Linn County. When planting a pollinator garden, horticulturists recommend using native plant species. This seed mix includes nectar-producing plants that bloom at various times through the season, so butterflies and bees always will find a food source.

Adding more milkweed and pollinator plants to the landscape is a goal of both MRP and the state of Iowa.

Earlier this year, 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 hope to plant about double the amount of milkweed that currently exists. Iowa State University has estimated that Linn County needs to add 1.5 million stems of milkweed to support a sustainable monarch butterfly population.

“Recent research demonstrates that an ‘all hands on deck’ approach is necessary for successful monarch conservation,” said Joe Colletti, interim endowed dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University, when the Iowa conservation goals were announced in March 2018.

Several studies have called the loss of milkweed in the Midwest the most important factor in the declining numbers of migrating monarch butterflies. In the last 20 years, the population of monarch butterflies in the Midwest has decreased by more than 90 percent. The United States currently is studying whether to protect the monarch under the Endangered Species Act.

The need for this ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach inspired this seed giveaway. “We are inviting everyone in Linn County to join us in adding milkweed and pollinator habitat to the natural landscape in Linn County,” says Clark McLeod, co-founder of the Monarch Research Project.

“We will provide the seeds, and the people who pick up the seed will provide the hands and the land. The prairie seed is a special native seed mix, not available at a retail establishment. That’s also true for the cold-stratified milkweed seed, McLeod said. “If you want to grow milkweed this year from seed, please come out and get our seed.”

The quantity of free seeds distributed to each person will be based on the size of land that the landowner will plant. The largest amount of seed to be given away to any individual will cover 500 square feet. A total of 16 pounds of milkweed, which totals 1,024,000 seeds, and 12 pounds of pollinator seed will be distributed.

Seed recipients will be asked to provide information about the planting site so MRP can map where in the county the pollinator habitat will be added. The organization also plans to follow up with a sampling of landowners to understand the success of the plantings and, therefore, the giveaway.

The Monarch Research Project is a non-profit organization based in Marion that seeks to reestablish the monarch population and add 10,000 acres of pollinator habitat in Linn County, establishing a model for the whole country. Learn more about our work at www.monarchzones.com.