Category Archives: Newsletter

Sowing Seeds, No. 59, July 2016

Sowing Seeds, No. 59

Every year, there seems to be trends – what animal species is the focus of greatest concern, which plant species are more prevalent, which invasives are getting the most attention.

The monarch butterfly is a continuing focus of attention – certainly across the Midwest. I recently attended a pollinator conference in Davenport, Iowa, and will share some of my impressions further down in the newsletter.   Certainly, the concern over bees – honeybees, rusty patched bumblebees, and more – are also very much in the news.

In walking around yards – both my own and others’ – I noted a higher than normal population of fleabane. There’s a lot of it. And plants in the Galium genus – bedstraw or cleavers and to a lesser extent, Sweet Woodruff – were quite abundant this year.

But of much more concern is the increase in populations of some of the umbelliferae. This family of plants includes many edibles such as carrots, celery, dill and chervil; native garden favorites golden alexanders, and the alien but innocuous Queen Anne’s Lace. However, there are a number of related species that are poisonous and/or phototoxic. Some of the plants have white flowers and some have yellow, but extreme care should be taken if you encounter a population.

Wild parsnip is of so much concern that it has made the news. This is a yellow-flowered species. These plants are not only dangerous to eat (poisonous), but can cause serious skin damage if touched. There are also increased reports of giant hogweed which is phototoxic and can cause blindness. This is a white-flowered species, and as its name suggests, gets very tall. Descriptions indicate it can get up to 14 feet high. People who touch it are advised to wash the affected area as soon as possible and keep the skin out of the sun. There is a lot of information available if you google giant hogweed.

A number of the poisonous plants have white flowers. I regularly drive past a robust stand of umbelliferae plants on Highway 59 near Bartlett. Since I am not on foot, I don’t have the opportunity to examine the leaves or other indications of species, but I suspect these are poisonous plants, and have gone to the IDOT website to send an email about them.

Better news about invasives is that there seems to be an effort to deal with the teasel I have seen along this same stretch of 59. The last week, I noticed that all of the teasel plants were curling over at the top.

I was fantasizing the other day about an interactive website where you could see or report locations of invasive species on a map.

Please send me an email if you have any news about invasive populations – new appearances, or efforts at control – that you would like to share.

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I mentioned a pollinator conference. It was attended by about 300 people and was a very well-organized event. Maximum use was made of time, with seating at dining tables so you could eat the meals while listening to speakers. The opening keynote was by Dr. Karen Oberhauser and – after reviewing the life cycle of the monarch, the migration, the recent population statistics, – she provided information on what has contributed to the losses and what targets are being set for the future.

Some of the interesting details –

  •  the body mass of the monarch caterpillar increases 2,000 times in ten days
  •  Only 3% to 7% of monarchs survive the larval stage.
  •  It is the state insect or butterfly of seven states.

Factors contributing to the losses in monarch populations

  • 5,000 acres/day are lost to development.
  •  Between 2006 and 2011, one million acres of native prairie were  converted to cropland.
  •  In the year 2000, fifty times more monarchs came from agricultural                                        areas than non-agricultural areas, but changing ag practices have severely impacted the monarch.
  •  habitat loss in Mexico
  •  insecticides
  •   climate change
  •   invasive species
  •   vehicle collision

Long-term goals for the monarch population would be a wintering population of 6 hectares. Major efforts to save the migration population of the monarch include a US Fish and Wildlife conservation effort. Over the next 5 years, $20 million is pledged toward the effort, with $4 million per year. There is a strategic plan with Canada and Mexico. Federal and State Departments of Transportation will be involved (mowing and pesticide practices), and working with state Fish and Wildlife services. A Mayors’ Pledge has 171 cities working to help monarchs, and a NFWF effort has raised $10 million.

Dr. Chip Taylor, founder of Monarch Watch, was the lunchtime Keynote.His statistics added to the sad story told by the figures above.

  • 24,000,000 acres of habitat have been lost in 4 years
  • 175,000,000 acres have been lost since 1996.

He walked us through some figures that underlie the estimate of what will be needed in milkweed availability to bring the monarch population up to the 6 hectare level. (The 6 hectares would represent an average.)

Chip said there are 15 million to 40 million monarchs per hectare, and there are 12 – 30 milkweed stems for each monarch in Mexico. (I hope I’m reading my notes correctly.) The current milkweed population would support 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 hectares of monarchs, so we need

1.4 billion additional stems of milkweed to get to 6 hectares. That would be 20 million acres! Waystation programs are good, but they’re not enough. Nursery efforts have grown from 22,000 plants in 2012 to 200,000 plants in 2016, but that is woefully short of what is needed.

Other programs that are being considered – milkweed plantings on Indian lands in Oklahoma; a Monarch Highway on I-35, which would be a 1300-mile corridor; kiosks at rest stops. He estimates that $10 million to $12 million could make it happen.

During the break-out sessions, I went to presentations focused on Natives in Urban, Municipal, and Right-of-Way Settings. One of the presenters was Sara Race of Commonwealth Edison who explained that ComEd is different from many other utilities in the fact that it owns many of the properties, rather than holding easements on them. They add 15-25 acres to their prairie program every year, and have about 300 acres in prairie now. They have about 30,000 to 90,000 acres under their management. (The corridors range from 100’ wide to 250” wide, so she couldn’t give a precise number of the total acres.

There were additional talks in this track on:

Integrating water quality with pollinator habitats presented by an Urban Conservationist from the Dubuque Soil and Water Conservation District;

Planning and Establishing a Reconstructed Prairie from Paper to Plants, presented by an agronomist with the Office of Design, Iowa Department of Transportation;

Stormwater Management Practices in Davenport, Iowa, presented by a Natural Resource Manager, City of Davenport;

Prairie for Pollinators in the Right of Way – Establishment, Maintenance and the Roadside, presented by a roadside vegetation manager for Johnson County, Iowa and

a presentation on Positive Action for Pollinators in the Golf Industry, presented by a stewardship leader for Sygenta. (I was somewhat surprised by this one.

Note: I have a copy of the session listings, and I would be happy to provide names and other details to anyone who is interested in getting in touch directly.

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I attended the pollinator conference, and particularly the ROW track in the break-out sessions as a way of better informing myself for a new organization that is being launched. Chicago Area Living Corridor Alliance, or CALCA, had its first large meeting this past Sunday. Pam Todd (West Cook Wild Ones) gave some background on the idea behind the organization, and what steps have been taken to get us to this point. Largely, it is intended to help realize Doug Tallamy’s concept of creating habitat corridors. At the start, CALCA’s idea is to incorporate the mapping of conservation lands, with the addition of privately owned properties with native habitat. “We’re hoping to unite schools, churches, farmers, residents, public lands, institutions, conservation groups, corporate campuses, and right-of-way initiatives around our common goals” according to Pam. We will be focusing on the Chicago Region, as defined by Swink and Wilhelm and Chicago Wilderness.

Others who have been involved in helping to organize the meeting are: Peggy Simonsen of Citizens for Conservation; Arthur Smith, also of West Cook Wild Ones; June Keibler of The Conservation Foundation, Northern Kane Wild Ones, and WPPC, plus yours truly. Many organizations and agencies have already expressed strong support for the effort, and we have scheduled a fall meeting on October 8, which will be hosted by Lurie Gardens and held at the Chicago Cultural Center. Over the next months, I’ll be writing more about CALCA and its progress. It is partly in anticipation of this effort that the WPPC mapping project was initiated. About 60 people in the WPPC community have already provided input on their native plantings, and we would very much like to have more of the properties represented. Check out to add your location. Your name and address will not show on the map.

If anyone would like to become involved in committee work for CALCA, please contact me with your interest. The current committees are:

mapping, criteria, marketing and outreach.

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I’ve written about the status of the companion website for this newsletter –   I now have a structure to work with, but it looks like all the information will need to be re-entered. It will take a while, but at least there’s a start.

Please let me know if you’d like to be removed from this email list.

Thank you for your attention.

Carol Rice


July, 2016