Collecting Seeds of California Milkweed to Restore Monarch Habitat

This summer, we’re continuing our work to support western monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus plexippus) populations on and around Mount Diablo. The Diablo region is part of a major migration corridor for monarchs.

Milkweed seeds. Photo by Haley Sutton

By planting and nurturing more California milkweed (Asclepias californica), local western monarch butterfly populations will have more places for their young to feed and grow safely.

Earlier this year, we found monarch caterpillars on some of our California milkweeds—after years of searching, this was our first sighting of monarch caterpillars.

Monarch on a milkweed

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed flowers. Photo by Sean Burke

In the wake of this good news, our work continues; we’re collecting seeds from some of our California milkweeds so that they can be used for restoration.

In early July, we submitted a grant for restoration of pollinator habitat with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).

How We Collect Seeds

To collect milkweed seeds without harming the plants, we’ve been placing mesh bags around the seed pods. When it’s time for the pods to break open, the seeds spill into the bags for us to gather and process.

Filled seed bags. Photo by Haley Sutton

Recently, our stewardship staff checked some of the bags and discovered that many were filled with seeds. The first batch of seeds have been collected and brought to the Watershed Nursery for propagation.

milkweed plants with bags that will catch the seeds

Bagged milkweed seed pods. Photo by Haley Sutton

Monarch Butterflies: An Endangered Species

As of July 21st, migratory monarch butterflies have been classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

According to the IUCN, the migratory monarch butterfly population has shrunk by up to 72 percent over the last decade, with the western population being at the greatest risk for extinction.

Now, our work to protect the western monarch butterfly is more critical than ever! We plan on continuing and expanding our monarch project for years to come so that monarchs will have a home and a habitat in the Diablo Range.

Help from Volunteers

We owe a great deal of our success and work on this project to the volunteers who have showed up and offered their commitment to help!

Recently, we were assisted by a group of student interns who put bags around milkweed seed pods. They also learned about the importance of California milkweed plants to monarchs—how and why monarch caterpillars need to feed on milkweed plants to survive.

A local volunteer expert who is passionate about milkweeds has also been working to map the locations of the plants throughout our region; their work ensures that we have a better understanding of local milkweed populations.

Riverview Middle School student installing seed bags to collect California milkweed seeds. Photo by Sean Burke

Top photo: USFWS

Join us to save the remaining natural lands of Mount Diablo!

Make a Donation