The Oregon Milkweed Project


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The Oregon Milkweed Project consists of one person collecting and distributing seed of 2 native Oregon milkweeds (Asclepias speciosa and A. fascicularis) for the express purpose of recreating habitat for Monarch Butterflies. There are no governmental agencies, corporations or non-profit organizations involved.

According to many sources, Monarch Butterflies are not present in Oregon. On several occasions, however, I have found Monarch caterpillars feeding on wild milkweeds. These were mostly in the Siskiyou Mountains but I have seen them as far North as Corvallis in the Willamette Valley and Rowena in the Columbia River Gorge. Also present at the Rowena population were the Western Longhorned Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes sp.) and the Common Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus sp.).

It is my belief that Monarchs would migrate up the Willamette Valley at least as far North as Portland if suitable host plant material were available along the way. The I-5 corridor runs through the heart of the valley and has been heavily developed, both as farmland and for commercial/ residential/ industrial uses. Milkweeds are generally considered to be poisonous weeds, injurious to livestock, and so are not spared when development occurs. The only remaining populations that I am aware of in Northern Oregon occur in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Another species of native milkweed, Asclepias solonoana, occurs in the serpentine areas of the Siskiyou Mountains. I haven't seen the flowers, but the plants are spectacular even without them. The leaves are BLUE and the overall appearance of the plant is like a seedling Eucalyptus. The best place to see this species is along Eight Dollar Mountain Road, between Grants Pass and Cave Junction on Hwy 199. A side note: This stretch of road is one of the most amazing botanical areas in Oregon. If you plan on going there, I would recommend buying a copy of Rare and Endangered Plants of Oregon by Donald C. Eastman (Beautiful America Publishing). I can vouch for the presence of at least a dozen species of rare and/or endangered plants along this road from its junction with Hwy 199 to its termination at the Babyfoot Lake Trailhead at the edge of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. If you are up to it, hike or bike the road so that you don't miss anything. When you reach the Babyfoot Lake Trailhead, you will be rewarded by the sight of Lewisia cotyledon var. purdyi growing near groves of Brewer's Weeping Spruce (Picea breweriana)

The Plan
  1. Collect seed of native species of milkweeds. Neither A. fascicularis or A. speciosa is considered rare or endangered, so collecting modest amounts of seed is unlikely to have an impact on existing populations.
  2. Distribute the seed to interested gardeners along the I-5 corridor.
  3. Broadcast seed in suitable (unlandscaped) habitats on public land along the I-5 corridor where mowing and spraying are unlikely to occur and livestock are absent.
  4. Provide public agencies with plants for use in landscaped areas within their jurisdictions.
What You Can Do To Help
  1. Plant milkweeds in your garden. In addition to being the larval host plant for Monarchs, milkweeds are also great nectar sources for many adult butterflies. They are also immune to many common garden pests and have beautiful, often fragrant flowers. Some non-native species are quite aggressive, even weedy, so stick to the natives.
  2. Encourage others to plant milkweeds. Raise plants from seed and give them away. Be sure to show off your plants when they are blooming - everyone will want some!
  3. Lobby your local city or county government to plant native species (not just milkweeds!) in new and existing public plantings such as right-of-ways and medians. Be sure to obtain permission before planting anything on property that is not your own!
  4. Let me know where you have planted milkweeds and where you have sighted Monarchs so that I can develop a database.
  5. Keep sending me URL's of interesting butterfly websites; I will continue to update the resources page with new links.

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