In late July, Dave Searl, head gardener at the Quad-City Botanical Center in Rock Island, made a monarch butterfly egg rescue that has resulted in the growth of dozens of caterpillars, soon to be butterflies.
Searl was mowing the lawn near the center's prairie plant plot when he noticed a monarch laying eggs on tiny, 3-inch-high milkweed cuttings in front of his mower.
These are the stray, hardly noticeable plants that he'd been mowing off every week. "Five minutes later, I would not have noticed her (the butterfly) and would have mowed over the eggs. So, I shut down the mower and found Greg (Wolf, education coordinator) to help collect the eggs.
"I had to joke about seeing two grown men crawling around on their hands and knees collecting a dozen or more tiny milkweed cuttings." All told, they collected 54 eggs.
The moral of this story is that if you are one of those people who collects eggs for growing butterflies indoors, don't overlook small plants. I have always looked on the undersides of the big leaves of the tall plants; I would never have thought about the little ones.
THE CONSERVATION EFFORT: A chart from the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund really drives home the point of what we're up against in trying to restore the monarch population. The chart shows spaces for 100 butterflies with only 10 remaining, a 90 percent loss in 20 years.
Much of that decline is attributed to habitat loss in North and South Dakota and Minnesota as former grassland areas were converted to crops and other uses. Most former prairie areas in Iowa and Illinois already were converted, but habitat has been lost in these states as well with the virtual elimination of milkweeds from farm fields because of the effectiveness of chemical weed control. Habitat loss in Mexico also contributes to the decline.
Currently underway is a 16-state regional plan to develop up to 7 million acres of habitat for the monarch's migration east of the Rockies, and groups in Iowa and Illinois are in the thick of it. About 40 percent of the butterflies that winter in Mexico hatch in the Midwest — we are important!
As Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity said, "Iowa is crucial to the monarchs. It's in the heart of the summer habitat of the eastern migratory population."
The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium figures it will take 20 years to create up to 830,000 acres of habitat and plant nearly 190 million new stems of milkweed. About 1.6 billion stems are needed in the Midwest.
About $5.3 million in public and private funding is dedicated to the effort so far.
"It's the largest conservation effort of our lifetime," said Kraig McPeek, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field supervisor for Illinois and Iowa.
The Iowa consortium is made up of 40 organizations, including the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa Sate University.
Anything we can do in on our land — small city lots or large rural acreages — to create monarch habitat will help.
ON THE TRACK OF TIFFANYS: A woman from Bar Harbor, Maine, responded to a recent column about the theft of valuable Tiffany windows from cemeteries in Rock Island, Michigan and elsewhere, likely the work of professional thieves.
Katherine Whitney has a computer feed that alerts her whenever anything is written by Tiffany windows. She thinks that the more people share information, the more likely the windows are to be recovered.
Whitney's personal mission is to find the window stolen in June 1988 from her church, St. Saviour Episcopal, near Bar Harbor. The church is known for its Tiffany windows; 10 large works of religious themes remain in the church, and tours are conducted for people wanting to see them.
The one that was stolen was a slim, lancet window (the type with a point at the top) depicting Easter lilies. It was on a back wall on hinges so that it could be opened for air circulation.
The church was able to afford such windows because, back in the day, the area was a vacation home for wealthy families such as the Vanderbilts, who made their fortune in shipping and railroads and the Rockefellers, who founded Standard Oil.
Whitney said the lily window is listed on all the major databases of stolen art, and that she's hopeful that one day it — like the window in the Michigan mausoleum we wrote about — will be returned.