This Thing Called Courage

Monday, February 04, 2008

What to Do When the Patriots Lose: Plant Milkweed Seeds

"The division seems rather unfair," I remarked. "You have done all the work in this business. I get a wife out of it, Jones gets the credit, pray what remains for you?"

"For me," said Sherlock Holmes, "there still remains the cocaine bottle." And he stretched his long white hand up for it.

- The Sign of Four, Arthur Conan Doyle

Ah yes, what remains for the ardent Patriot fan after the debacle last night in the desert? Why, seed starting, of course! So HURRY, HURRY, HURRY, kids, and get your milkweed seeds/plants. During the last part of January-- as long as we've had a couple of good cold spells to 'ripen' the seed-- I go harvesting milkweed pods. Starting this past weekend, I began planting the seeds in seed-starting kits, intentional or improvised (e.g. egg cartons) and raise as many plants as I can. I'll send seeds and/or plants to anyone who wants them. You'll not only be growing a beautiful native flower in your gardens and yards (or anywhere else you plant them), you'll also be giving a boost to the Monarch Butterfly.

The thing is, milkweed (asclespias species) is the host plant for the larvae of the Monarch-- the female Monarch will lay her eggs on no other plant. As habitat for milkweed decreases, its imperative that we plant as much milkweed as possible. One of the biggest problems is the loss of milkweed plants in agricultural areas. It used to be that milkweed would spring up in between rows of corn, on the edge of agricultural fields, and in the hedgerows separating one type of crop from another. This accounted for at least 50% and possibly as much as 75% of milkweed distribution. But then along came GMO crops, and Round-Up (a weed-killing product from Monsanto). Many GMO crops are bred to have an inherent resistance to the poison in Round Up; therefore, farmers can 'just spray Round-Up' throughout their fields, rather than having to 'bother' to till for weed control. As you can imagine, Round Up kills not only the milkweed Monarchs depend upon, but lots of other things as well. Perhaps some day a clever scientist will develop an evironmentally-friendly, genetically-modified American consumer. Defenders of Wildlife Magazine writes, in "Frogs Not Ready for Roundup:"
"Homeowners who care about wildlife may want to think twice before applying a common household herbicide.
According to a recent study, the world’s most commonly used herbicide, Monsanto’s Roundup, kills full-grown frogs and is deadly to tadpoles at lower concentrations than previously tested.
The study found that even when applied at one-third the maximum concentrations expected in nature, Roundup still killed up to 71 percent of tadpoles in outdoor tanks. After exposure to the maximum concentrations, nearly all the tadpoles from three different species died. Results were published in the August 1 issue of the scientific journal Ecological Applications.
The researchers also discovered that Roundup Weed and Grass Killer killed more than three-quarters of tested frogs after only one day.
“The most striking result from the experiments was that a chemical designed to kill plants killed 98 percent of all tadpoles within three weeks and 79 percent of all frogs within one day," says Rick Relyea, a biologist at the University of Pittsburgh and lead author of the study.
According to another study published recently in Environmental Health Perspectives, Roundup may also cause reproductive damage in humans. Other studies point to increased risks of contracting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers, according to the Pesticide Action Network.
“These results suggest that homeowners should carefully weigh the weed control benefits of Roundup against the environmental cost of spraying an herbicide that is highly toxic to amphibians," says Relyea.

The milkweed is imperative to Monarchs as they make their way back north, from the mountains of central Mexico where they winter. So, let me know, and I'll save some seed/seedlings for you.
Here's another little story from Defenders of Wildlife Magazine, regarding Monarch migration:

Monarchs Finding Their Way
Imagine waking up one morning with an irresistible urge to visit your great-great-grandparents’ winter home. The problem: it’s 2,000 miles away in an unfamiliar country, your ancestors left no address and you have no map. How do you find your way?
This is the challenge facing millions of monarch butterflies each fall as they head from summer habitats in the United States and Canada to wintering grounds in central Mexico. Scientists have wondered for years how insects weighing only a fraction of an ounce can navigate long distances over unknown terrain. But now they think they’ve solved the puzzle: special sensors in the butterflies’ eyes, along with an internal clock, that together form a crude compass.
Researchers recently tested the butterflies in a flight simulator and found that the insects flew toward an ultraviolet light source. The sun is the largest natural source of ultraviolet light, but following it blindly would lead butterflies on a fruitless east-west journey each day. Exploring further, the scientists found that the ultraviolet sensors in the butterflies’ eyes connected with the brain center that regulates sleep-wake cycles—the ‘circadian clock.’ This internal clock allows the insects to make adjustments for the sun’s position based on the time of day, enabling them to use the sun as a compass to guide them south.
Understanding how monarchs navigate may help conservationists protect them, says Steven Reppert of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, who led the study. In addition, he says, “understanding more about the fundamental mechanisms of the circadian clock can tell us more about how the human brain works."
So, put down that cocaine bottle-- and plant seeds for spring.


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