When I asked Linda if she would like to be featured as native plant advocate of the month and select the plant of the month for ANPP's newsletter, she said, "FANTASTIC, I would love to opportunity to share my latest project with your readers!" Linda is recently retired from her family-owned business that provided pest control services in the Harahan area for three generations. As she learned to identify pests and advise control methods, she studied butterflies and began raising them, over 111 species! In 2014 she began distributing milkweed seeds and installing butterfly gardens in schools. She is now devoting her time to a new butterfly project. In her own words, Linda describes her latest project.
Kick-Start the Migration In 2013, Monarch Watch reported the lowest number of monarch butterflies in recorded history at the Mexican overwintering forest sites. This inspired me to begin my crusade to help. Guided by Monarch Watch recommendations, each following year I have created and led different projects in Louisiana and Mississippi. My company distributed milkweed seeds, installed butterfly gardens in 17 local schools and Monarch WayStations at several visitor welcome centers throughout our state. My “Geaux Grow Natives” project involved 14 local garden centers which agreed to sell my dozen specially selected native caterpillar host and nectar pollinator plants that local growers produced. Next, NOLA BugLady Plants began supplying the native Aquatic milkweed (Asclepias perennis) and other hard to find pollinator plants to our local gardeners. Last year Dr. Christen Steele (PhD Tulane University), Ginna Hoff and I gave workshops to teach folks about the Oe protozoan parasite that is so prevalent where we live. The bottom line is monarch butterfly migration and health studies are ever-changing, complex, and very complicated. After many years of various studies, we still have unanswered questions.
March 2022, Ginna Hoff, Missy Kapsos and I traveled to Cameron Parish to study the early spring migration. Peveto Woods is a bird and butterfly migratory sanctuary owned by Baton Rouge Audubon Society located in Johnson Bayou on the banks of the Gulf of Mexico. Years ago, during the 1990’s, I participated in NABA butterfly counts in Cameron led by Dr. Gary Noel Ross who was doing extensive research of monarch butterflies using oil field platforms during their migrations. His article revealed that during that particular time period, he found green milkweed (Asclepias viridis) growing like a carpet and it was covered with monarch and queen caterpillars. During our Cameron visit, we three ladies did a good bit of hiking the woods and local trails but did not see one green milkweed plant. Local contacts also gave similar reports that they had not seen green milkweed growing there for years. My theory is that saltwater intrusion due to multiple occurrences of long-standing hurricane floodwaters has changed the soil in the areas nearest the coast to the point that the milkweed will not grow there.
After doing all sorts of projects working with University of Kansas (tagging program), University of Georgia (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, aka Oe studies) and Tulane University (native vs. non-native milkweed and Oe studies), I have concluded that it is time to look at the bigger picture. All our projects thus far have promoted interest and awareness. However, now there is a real need to reestablish plots of native green milkweed along western Louisiana to kick-start their spring migration north. We must assume these monarchs migrating through the Peveto Woods area are healthy individuals or they could not have made that journey from Mexico. The idea is to create steppingstone oasis fueling spots from the Gulf of Mexico to Shreveport.
A big thank you goes to folks at ANPP in Arnaudville who produced 150 green milkweed plants for my project. Over the following three weeks, the plants were distributed to folks living in Breaux Bridge, Lafayette, Washington, Ville Platte, and Shreveport who have volunteered to add green milkweed to their garden spaces. Test plots can be seen at the following participating locations: Butte LaRose Welcome Center off I-10 in the Atchafalaya Basin, the Acadiana Park Nature Station in Lafayette, Allen Acres in Pitkin, Lake Chicot Nature Center in Ville Platte, and Wayne Jacobs State Park in Blanchard. Am scheduled to deliver plants to Briarwood Nature Preserve in Saline soon. Each volunteer will check their plants every few days and snap a picture to document any activity.
This will be an interesting study to help determine 1) will monarchs find it, 2) how long did it take, 3) will monarchs lay eggs on it, 4) will other milkweed bugs use it, and 5) will green milkweed thrive in a garden situation. But most of all we want to know if or how this will affect monarch migration numbers. More participants and locations are needed. For more info, you can contact me @ email@example.com
Thank you, Linda for sharing your knowledge of native plants and "bugs" and spreading the word throughout the Gulf South.