August 19, 2019
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Maine students learn to plant milkweed to help monarch butterflies

Second grade students from Sanford’s Lafayette Elementary School sifted soil into pots on Tuesday afternoon, tamped it down, added some locally harvested milkweed seeds and lightly covered them.

Once the seedlings emerge, grow a bit and are ready later this year, perhaps in late May, the students will plant them in a wildflower meadow being created in Springvale, said Mousam Way Land Trust President and retired botanist Gordon Johnston.

Why milkweed?

The goal, said Johnston, is to improve habitat for pollinating insects, especially monarch butterflies.

The seedlings will be planted on the land trust’s Blanchard property, along with several varieties of wildflowers.

According to the National Park Service, monarch butterflies lay their eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves. Then, while feeding on nectar, the monarchs pollinate many types of wildflowers.

Johnston pointed out that pollinator insects we depend upon for fruits and vegetables are declining in number, creating a serious problem for farmers and native species.

So the youngsters from Heidi Smith’s and Michelle Levy’s second grade classes at Lafayette School are helping out.

Tuesday’s seed-planting project took place in one of the greenhouse at Springvale Nurseries. The seedlings will be cared for by their staff until transplant time, said Johnston.

Even though there is still snow on the ground, and the wind had a bite on Tuesday, it was warm inside the greenhouse as the students bent to their tasks.

Student Bradley Alley, tipping seeds into a soil-filled pot, said he’s done some gardening before — planting flowers.

“We had a garden at preschool,” he said.

And student Aurora Hale said she’d done some gardening in the past too, planting blue flowers.

“I think they were violets,” she said.

Assisting with the project was Kevin McKeon, who was sifting and dispensing potting soil from a big wheelbarrow. For some of the students — remember, they’re 8 years-old — getting their hands into the potting soil seemed as attractive a prospect as actually planting the seeds.

The land trust has hosted a number of field trips and projects for Sanford school teachers and their students over the years.

This year, Johnston said several programs have been planned for students from grade two to seniors in high school and others for senior citizens.

As well as the land trust, the project is supported by the Dead River Company.

Student Zoe Smith concentrated on planting the seeds just right. And then she explained the pollination process, aided, just a bit by Johnston.

“The butterflies drink the nectar and spread the pollen,” she said.

“She’s on the right track,” Johnston said.

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