Playing a role in a big effort

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Draven Stuckman was one of the volunteers who helped roll a total of 873 milkweed seedballs at the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre in Marquette on Saturday. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

The Wetlands Centre is partnering with the organization Milkweed Matters to make 3,000 seedballs. Those, and others made across the state, will be distributed to RAGBRAI riders, to be thrown into roadside ditches to establish milkweed plants.

The seedballs are grape-sized, and made with a mixture of clay and soil. Four milkweed seeds are placed inside.

“Four seeds per ball is what they’ve found is most effective,” explained Wetlands Centre Director Alicia Mullarkey. “We’re using common milkweed, which is one of the easiest [milkweed plants] to get seeds from.”

In northeast Iowa alone, organizations are hoping to contribute 7,000 seedballs. The Wetlands Centre is shooting to make 3,000 of those. “We’re already well on our way,” said director Alicia Mullarkey, referencing seedballs rolled by local students, Boy Scouts and other volunteers.

Milkweed is important, especially for monarchs, because it’s the only plant on which caterpillars can feed.

Wetlands Centre hopes to contribute 3,000 milkweed seedballs to statewide initiative

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

As thousands of riders trek their way across Iowa this July 23-29, for the 45th annual RAGBRAI bicycle ride, they’ll be littering the state’s roadsides—not with trash, but milkweed seedballs.

The goal is for riders to receive balls of soil containing milkweed plant seeds at stations along the RAGBRAI route. As they bike, riders are encouraged to throw the seedballs out along roadsides, in the hopes of establishing milkweed plants. Riders will also learn more about milkweed and its importance to monarchs.

The initiative began four years ago when a group called Milkweed Matters, a riding team and environmentally-minded group of friends, spread milkweed seed along the RAGBRAI route as a way to increase the breeding and feeding habitat of monarch butterflies and other pollinators, whose populations are in decline.

In 2015, the organization Monarchs in Eastern Iowa rolled and distributed 2,000 seedballs to riders outside of Mount Vernon. Last year, Milkweed Matters, with the help of partnerss across Iowa, rolled more than 50,000 seedballs, which were distributed at eight educational booths along the route. Milkweed Matters, now aided by a mini-grant from the Resource Enhancement and Protection Conservation Education Program, hopes to do even more this year.

In northeast Iowa alone, organizations are hoping to contribute 7,000 seedballs, said Alicia Mullarkey, director at Marquette’s Driftless Area Wetlands Centre. She’s also serving as the northeast Iowa coordinator.

“At the Wetlands Centre, we’re shooting for 3,000 by July 1,” she added. “We’re already well on our way.”

Mullarkey said seventh and eighth graders from MFL MarMac have rolled roughly 1,000 seedballs. Kindergartners also made some on a recent field trip to the Wetlands Centre. Jim Langhus and the Boy Scout troop from Monona have contributed 750. Last month’s Earth Day celebration at Turner Park, in McGregor, netted a few more.

On Saturday, a special event at the Wetlands Centre added 873 seedballs to the tally.

“It doesn’t take very long to make a lot,” Mullarkey said.

To make the seedballs, a grape-sized amount of clay/soil mixture is rolled into a ball. An indentation is then made in the ball, in which four milkweed seeds are placed. The seedball is then rolled back up and left to dry, in order to protect the precious cargo inside.

“Four seeds per ball is what they’ve found is most effective,” Mullarkey explained. “We’re using common milkweed, which is one of the easiest [milkweed plants] to get seeds from.”

In the few years Milkweed Matters has been working with RAGBRAI, Mullarkey said their efforts have been successful, with milkweed popping up in ditches along previous routes.

“They did a study and found there was a 90 percent germination rate [using the seedballs],” she noted.

Roadsides can offer good habitat for pollinators, Mullarkey shared. However, mowing and spraying has decimated milkweed.

Milkweed is important, especially for monarchs, because it’s the only plant on which caterpillars can feed.

“The more we can add on the landscape now, the better off monarchs will be,” Mullarkey said, adding that she’s glad the Wetlands Centre can play a part in a much larger effort to aid the monarchs. “This follows right along with our mission.”

Mullarkey said several more seedball-making events will be held through May and June. If any groups or individuals would like to help, they can contact her at the Wetlands Centre.

“We can provide you with supplies,” she shared.

To learn more about Milkweed Matters, visit milkweedmatters.org.

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