WEST ORANGE, NJ – This year, on Arbor Day, which was celebrated at St. Cloud Elementary School, Susan McCartney, councilwoman and president of the Chamber of Commerce, announced that the West Orange Environmental Commission (W.O.E.C.) was going to be embarking on a National Wildlife Federation Campaign to help reinvigorate the Monarch Butterfly populations.

“I just recruited the whole St. Cloud school to help me with a National Wildlife Federation Campaign to plant milkweed to reinvigorate the Monarch Butterfly population," McCartney said. "I plan to do it at every school, but will kick it off at St. Cloud.”

At the time, McCartney said that this campaign would begin soon--and she was right. But first she said they needed to obtain the milkweed seeds, which were in high demand because the project was a national campaign. She explained that many people were collecting the seeds, which were in shortage.

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According to McCartney, the Monarch population has decreased tremendously because of the use of pesticides that have been killing off all the milkweed and plants that butterflies eat. She said that Monarchs, in particular, need milkweed.

“So, we have to find the seeds first,” said Susan.

This week, the W.O.E.C. announced the initiation of a free town-wide Milkweed Program to save the endangered Monarch butterfly. This West Orange program is being run in conjunction with the NWF-National Wildlife Federation, and the New Jersey Audubon Society, plus many other conservation groups in North America to help the species.

“Imagine an insect weighing less than a paper clip, migrating in the fall  from northern areas of the USA and Canada, about 2,500 miles to high in the  Sierra Madre mountains  in Michochan, Mexico,” said West Orange resident Mike Brick, who is chairman of the West Orange Environmental Commission.

They overwinter there in the trees, then lay eggs in the spring and die,” he said. “Then three generations of butterflies migrate north going through their life cycles. The great grandchildren of the Mexican Monarchs, called the Methuselah Generation, then migrate the 2,500 miles back to their ancestral breeding grounds to finish the life cycle. This generation lives nine months, while the between generations live about three weeks.”

He added, “The beautiful orange mottled Monarch is the only species to have this unique life cycle. Its truly nature’s miracle. But, the species is 90 percent depleted by agricultural pesticides that have killed their only host plant, the Milkweed, where they lay their eggs and the hatched caterpillars eat these leaves, grow large, and form their chrysalis to then become a Monarch butterfly.”

All across the U.S. and Canada, people are joining forces to save this Monarch species by planting milkweed in their home gardens and beds, according to Brick, who shared the following websites for those interested in learning more: National Wildlife Federation Butterfly Heroes, Center for Biological Diversity and National Aquarium.

The W.O.E.C. has partnered with the Knowles family, which own the Pleasantdale Chateau and their head grounds keeper, Michael Conti, to harvest the facility’s surplus of local Swamp Milkweed plants into transfer pots for West Orange residents to plant at home.

“We thank the Pleasantdale Chateau for their contribution to this program,” said Brick.

While there is tropical milkweed available for purchase from local nurseries, this native swamp species is perennial, spreads, has orange/yellow flowers in summer and green seed pods in fall that pop open with silken seeds to wind travel to new destinations. The life cycle of this native species coincides with the life cycle of the Monarch northern migration. The tropical species does not, so this is the preferred species to support the Monarch migration, according to Brick.

Those interested in participating are invited to pick up the free Milkweed (one pot per West Orange family) during business hours at the locations listed below; however there is one caveat—participants are asked to sign the group’s Conservation Pledge to “REDUCE< REUSE & RECYCLE.”

“This gives us your name and email to add to our data base to connect with you all,” said Brick.

  • FIRST MOUNTAIN PRESCHOOL: 270 Pleasant Valley Way, West Orange, 973-243-6768 (Councilwoman and President of the Chamber of Commerce Susan McCartney-Director)
  • PRELINX Print Company: 122 Main Street, West Orange, 201-881-8000 (President Neil Sanghavi; and Executive Director Enrique Blanco) Office Hours 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday
  • BRICKPACK: 19 Colony Drive, West Orange, 973-943-6693 (Chairman of the West Orange Environmental Commission Michael Brick) Hours: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Monday - Thursday