Will Michigan honor Monarchs? 

Backers of state insect campaign say butterfly needs a boost.

   Maine has its honeybee. Massachusetts has its ladybug.

Mississippi, the Magnolia state, has two state insects: the firefly and ladybug.  Michigan has no state insect.  It has a state fish, the brook trout; a state bird, the robin; even a state fossil, the mastodon, unlikely as that may be. 

     Ilse Gebhard, a retired chemist from Kalamazoo, hopes that will change.  She is part of a Michigan campaign to protect the monarch butterfly.  She and others have expressed support for Michigan Senate Bill 812, introduced in February 2016 by Sen. Jim Marleau, R-Lake Orion.  It designates the monarch as Michigan's official state insect. 

   "Designating it will not give it any extra protection, like threatened or endangered status, Gebhard said.  "But it is a way to make people more aware of it and its conservation needs.  They may want to protect it because it is the state symbol."

     Gebhard, 76, maintains a butterfly garden at her home.  Tending to it and analyzing the results is her way of helping monarchs and other pollinators.  Scientists now say the monarch could face extinction in 20 years. Its numbers have plummeted, dropping from a billion seen on its winter grounds in 1996-97 to just 35 million in 2013-14.

   The reasons are varied, from habitat loss in Mexico on the preserves where it winters, to storms and drought conditions that decimate populations.  Farmers also are using more herbicides that kill milkweed, monarchs' sole food source.  Adult monarchs lay their eggs on mildweed.  The yound caterpillars emerge and eat the plant to survive.  It if disappears, so do monarch butterflies.

   Gebhard plants native mildweed, which is free from pesticides. Ever a scientist, she tallies the number of butterflies that arrive and lay their eggs in her garden, then counts the butterflies that develop from the caterpillars that emerge.  She uploads her data to Monarch Watch, an international citizen science project (monarchwatch.org).

   The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposed listing the eastern monarch population as a threatened species in 2014.  The agency is reviewing data to determine if it is warranted.

   In Michigan, more than 1,300 people have signed an online petition to "SAY YES TO THE MONARCH AS OUR OFFICIAL STATE INSECT" (bit.ly/monarchpetition.)

   Michigan is one of only three states without a state insect.  Seven states already list the monarch.

   "It's time to remedy that and designate the monarch butterfly with that honor."  Marleau's bill has been referred to the Senate Government Operations Committee.  

   No action has been taken, as of this writing, but if Gebhard and others have their way, that could soon change. (Ref: Michigan BLUE Magazine. Howard Meyerson)


Is your garden being taken over by franken flowers? If you’ve got orange petunias, it almost certainly is - and it’s proof of a disturbing GM (Genetically Modified) invasion by stealth.

Beauty is beguiling, and what could be more delightful than a garden lined with bright orange petunias?  And they have such pretty, evocative names: African Sunset, Pegasus Orange Morn, Potunia Plus Papaya, Bonnie Orange, Sanguna Patio Salmon ...  But petunias are not naturally orange and, when these varieties first appeared on the market two years ago, they were a suburban border sensation. Such a change from staid old purple and blue.  Legions of Britons snapped them up for their beds, hanging baskets and patios and, just a few months ago, experts hailed them ‘the fashionable colour for 2017.

But now we know something sinister lurks in those glowing petals. These are illegal ‘Franken-flowers’, genetically modified with DNA taken from maize plants to create their unnatural orange hue. They should never have been introduced here, but somehow evaded Britain’s bio border defenses.  This lack of oversight means there isn’t even an estimate of how many orange petunias are in the UK, or where they are.  And no one can say for certain what other GM plants are lurking in our gardens.  It is tempting just to shrug and say: ‘Oh well, they’re only flowers.’ But the story emerging this week of how scientifically altered plants have infiltrated our shores should sound loud alarm bells — for some experts are warning that the bedding plants may harbor threats, as yet unknown, to crops and pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies.

Genetically modified (GM) orange petunia seeds and plants first featured in British catalogs early in 2015. Apparently, the products were sourced from the Continent.  But Defra — the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs — took action only this month, when it issued an edict telling sellers of suspected GM petunias to stop selling them.

                   Source:  The Daily Mail /  London

2018 Fall Bulb Event
October 27, 2018 10 - 11 a.m. Tollgate Conference Center, 28115 Meadowbrook Rd, Novi, MI 48377

Preserving Food for Gifts
October 29, 2018 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. Marketplace (Saginaw Farmers Market) 203 S Washington Ave. Saginaw, MI 48607

-- AND--
November 14, 2018 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. Marketplace (Saginaw Farmers Market) 203 S Washington Ave. Saginaw, MI 48607

September 11, 2018 -- As the global pollinator crisis continues to rage, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has increased efforts to support endangered pollinators by expanding food sources for honeybees and now monarch butterflies.

             The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) attributes the pollination of more than 75 percent of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables consumed by humans to the efforts of bees and other pollinating insects. To support their effort to support us, creating reliable food sources for bees and butterflies is an important component.

             In 2016, MDOT's Bay Region piloted its first right-of-way sunflower planting, hoping to identify a hearty plant that could thrive in the challenging soil and air conditions adjacent to a freeway. The planting was deemed a success, as the flowers bloomed as intended, but the location was also found to be very popular among a number of bee species. The pop of color didn't hurt either and was well received by many motorists. Additionally, the timing of the planting resulted in a late bloom, with most of the plants flowering in late August, which extended the timing of the food source later into the season, when many bees might struggle to find food.

             Following a successful pilot season, MDOT staff approached the second year with plans to expand the sunflowers, identifying locations in both Bay and Isabella counties. With three successful sites for sunflowers now established, MDOT Resource Analyst Amanda Novak is researching different perennial seed mixes that may become an addition, or eventual replacement, to the annual sunflowers.  "Perennial plantings may be initially more expensive but over time they become self-sustaining," said Novak. "If we do this right, we find the correct mix, and we put in the initial work required with these plantings, they will eventually become a consistent food source for pollinators with very minimal maintenance on our part."

             Bees are not the only pollinator in need of a reliable food source. Monarch butterflies are known to be essential to pollination and boast an impressive migration pattern, traveling as far south as Mexico during the winter. This is where MDOT's master gardeners (MG) come into play.

             MDOT is fortunate to partner with the Michigan State University (MSU) Extension MG program, which has two primary goals: provide education and research-based horticulture science to motivated and active gardeners, and turn those trained gardeners into volunteers who will work to share their knowledge with the public. The program requires extensive education completed in a classroom setting, followed by 40 hours of volunteer work before participants are granted their MG certification. Maintaining the certification status requires continued education and volunteer hours throughout the year, which are no trouble for MDOT's MGs overseeing rest areas.

            Rest areas with MG oversight are privileged to have some of the most outstanding flower beds. They're carefully designed around their adaptability to the surrounding conditions and their blooming patterns. Most importantly, the flower beds are maintained through the season by MDOT MG volunteers.  Over the past two years, MDOT's dedicated MGs have worked to establish Monarch Waystation certification at the rest areas they oversee. The purpose of the waystation is to provide resources necessary for monarchs to produce successful generations and sustain their migration. A certified Monarch Waystation contains milkweed and other plants attractive to monarchs, and not only provides food but also a place for the butterflies to continue producing successful generations.

            "Providing these waystations was a very important goal for our MGs," says master gardener and former lead for the Swartz Creek Rest Area, Brenda Monty. "This is something that anyone can do - schools, private homeowners, business owners - they can all make a commitment to establish a dedicated area with milkweed and other nectar plants for our monarchs. This is something we are committed to doing for our butterfly population, and it's worth every bit of effort our team has put in."

            MSU Extension has recently introduced a Pollinator Champion program ideal for anyone interested in learning more about the pollination process in its entirety and what every individual can do to encourage healthy pollination. The course is conveniently offered online at a self-driven pace and is available to anyone interested in learning more, including current MGs who will also earn education credits upon completion.

            For more information about the Pollinator Champion program and the Monarch Waystation certification, go to:

            - Pollinator Champions program: https://pollinators.msu.edu/ programs/pollinator-champions/ , and

            - Monarch Waystation certification: www.monarchwatch.org​


                  Michigan Potatoes

There’s a good chance that when you think of potatoes you think of Idaho (and rightly so as the state grows over 14 billion pounds of potatoes per year). There’s also a good chance that you don’t think of Michigan.

However, Michigan does have a significant potato industry (they’re ranked 8th in the United States and produce over 1.6 billion pounds per year) and, more importantly, most of the Michigan potato crop is devoted to what the industry calls “processing potatoes”. Processing potatoes are potatoes destined to be turned into something else instead of simply bagged and sold for people to take home to slice, dice, and otherwise prepare on their own. Of all those millions upon millions of potatoes used expressly for potato chip processing, a whopping 70% are grown in Michigan.

The relationship between potatoes and Michigan isn’t a recent development either. The well-known Better Made Potato Chips company, for example, has operated out of Detroit since the 1930s (and continues to do so) and at the time the company was started it was only one of 31 potato chip companies operating out of the city.

So whether you’re sitting at a summer BBQ in Detroit, Michigan, shopping for a Super Bowl party in Austin, Texas,  or picking up a snack at a gas station in Fresno, California, there’s a very good chance that your potato chips started life somewhere in the farm country of Michigan.

 Outlawed plants? City of Midland deems weeds a public nuisance

Jessica Haynes, jhaynes@mdn.net

Poisonous, noxious, invasive: Just some of the words used to describe a list of weeds that are now prohibited in Midland.

The list of outlawed plants had not been updated since Feb. 2, 1982. Three plants are being removed from the list: Goldenrod, devil’s pitchfork and dodder plant, because of their importance to pollination or lack of invasive qualities.

“We want to keep a focus on those plants that really do pose a risk or a threat to the area,” said Karen Murphy, Midland public services director.

Those declared a public nuisance include: Garlic mustard, phragmites, crown vetch, purple loosestrife, giant hogweed, wild parsnip, spotted knapweed, Japanese knotweed, giant knotweed, autumn olive, glossy buckthorn, and common buckthorn.

The plants join Canada thistle, mustards, wild carrot, bindweed, hoary alyssum, ragweed, poison ivy, poison sumac, sow thistle and a plant known as climbing nightshade or European bittersweet.

Parks staff worked with Mid-Mitten Wild Ones Chapter and The Little Forks Conservancy to go over the list and propose edits and changes based on what plants have been located and identified as a threat to Midland County, Murphy said.

Revamping the ordinance allows city staff to respond on a complaint basis, Murphy said, and move forward with the violations process for any residents found to have the destructive plants on their property.

She recommended residents contact The Little Forks Conservancy for help with identifying and removing the plants.  “They have guidance they will give to homeowners,” Murphy said. 

The ordinance amendment changes Section 26.1 of Article I of the City’s Code of Ordinances, which can be found at http://cityofmidlandmi.gov/437/Code-of-Ordinances

The Midland City Council recently approved the ordinance amendment by a vote of 5-0; the changes took effect upon adoption of the amendment.


Image courtesy of Better Made Potato Chips Inc.

Monarch Butterfly-Killing Invasive Plant Found in Northern Michigan

MG Education Hour Opportunities


 EARN 1.5 Education Hours

The recording for the Oak Wilt Webinar held on 3-24-17, is now available through the VMS.  Log into the VMS and  under State Links, click on "2017 Free Online Webinars".  You will see the link for the recording (and password) at the top of the document that opens.  Also, under State Links, you will find the 2017 Oak Wilt Presentation as a document that you can open to read or print.

Remember, you should report 1.5 education hours after viewing this video.

Select the project "2017 Oak Wilt Disease Webinar".

Fast facts:
- MDOT's Bay Region has expanded support for pollinators with right-of-way sunflower plantings and Monarch Waystation certifications at most rest areas and Welcome Centers.

- MDOT's master gardeners have worked to establish Monarch Waystation certification at nearly all rest areas and Welcome Centers across the Bay Region.

- MSU Extension is now offering a free online course for individuals interested in learning more to boost pollinator support.

MSU Extension

Gardening in Michigan


The garden will be designed by internationally renowned garden designer Piet Oudolf.
Oudolf’s acclaimed gardens include the Lurie Garden in Chicago and the Highline in New York City, among scores of gardens around the world. He is one today's premier garden designers for public landscapes and is a leading figure of the "New Perennial" movement that is characterized by utilizing herbaceous perennials and grasses. His garden designs are artistic, ecologically inspired, accessible, welcoming and enjoyed year-round. 
After touring Detroit with the Garden Club of Michigan this past spring, Oudolf selected Belle Isle Park as the proposed site for one of his acclaimed garden designs. The site, located near the Nancy Brown Carillon Peace tower between the Remick Band Shell and the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, will be a connector in the cultural heart of the park. It also will help revitalize the island and attract garden lovers from near and far. The proposed garden will be paid for through donations and fundraising that will cover all the design, installation and maintenance costs.
Oudolf described the proposed Belle Isle site as a connector for people and activities on the island and "an opportunity to reinvigorate the adjacent structures and facilities."

MDOT's Bay Region continuing to expand support for pollinators

                      Atomic Gardening 

We have long strove to modify our crops to be more disease resistant, yield better (and more) produce, and otherwise be better versions of their wild ancestors that we took interest in centuries upon centuries ago. Before the advent of modern genetically modified foods, where scientists actively and precisely manipulate the genome of the plant, the process of modifying crops was a laborious one akin to breeding dogs to select for traits. You simply had to spend a lot of time with lots of trial and error to produce a plant that had a trait you were looking for.

In the mid-20th century, however, a new technique was developed. This technique was a middle road between the agonizing slowness of generational breeding and the speed and precision of modern genetic work: atomic gardening. In the 1950s, 60s, and early 70s, atomic energy of all types seemed like the key to all the promises of the future. Researchers used radioactive materials to create “atomic gardens” (also known as gamma gardens) in a bid to force mutations in plants and create better, hardier, and interesting variations of the plants. Gardening clubs and individual gardeners helped by planting irradiated seeds produced by the research.

Arranged in a circular fashion, atomic gardens had a simple premise. Place a radioactive substance in the center of the garden, typically Cobalt-60, and then grow the plants in concentric circles around the source as a way to naturally control the dosage. The closest plants would get the highest dose, and if the garden was large enough, the dosage would be negligible by the time you got to the rings furthest from the center.

While this method of gardening yielded many unusable mutations and the crops closest to the radiation source almost always withered from exposure, the outer plants would sometimes develop useful mutations. For example, the “Todd’s Mitcham” cultivar of peppermint (released in 1971) was developed in this fashion starting with experiments in 1955 and is now popular in the peppermint industry thanks to its strong resistance to disease. Furthermore, many crops around the world trace their origins back to mid-century atomic gardening experiments including variations of food staples like rice, wheat, and tomatoes.

Although atomic gardening is not as popular as it once was, it is starting to experience a renaissance and research continues at many national laboratories—like the multi-acre atomic garden at the Institute of Radiation Breeding in Hitachiohmiya, Japan (seen in the photo here)—that have been in operation for decades and still produce new and novel variants of plants with regularity.

KINGSLEY, Mich. — Officials in northern Michigan are working to get rid of an invasive plant that poisons monarch butterflies.

The black swallow-wort was recently spotted in the Grand Traverse County community of Kingsley, the Traverse City Record-Eagle reported. The vine has heart-shaped leaves and small, dark purple flowers. The plant, which typically grows along roadsides, pastures and gardens, can choke out native vegetation and poison insects and wildlife.

"It is quite difficult to remove," said Emily Cook, outreach specialist with the Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network. The nonprofit organization is studying whether the plant has been found elsewhere in Benzie, Grand Traverse, Leelanau and Manistee counties.

The plant attracts monarch butterflies, which often lay their eggs on the plant, Cook said. But caterpillars will be poisoned when they hatch and begin to eat the plant.

"It's toxic to caterpillars when eaten," Cook said.

The plant also has sap that's toxic to mammals and insects, and produces pathogens that stop other plants from growing around it, said Joanne Foreman, the invasive species communication coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

"There's a lot of concern about this plant," she said.

Black swallow-wort has a complicated root system, so pulling the plant can sometimes help the invasive vine spread, Cook said. The best way to kill the invasive plant and cut down the risk of unintentionally spreading it is to use an herbicide, she said.

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