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The Monarch Butterfly Project is a community outreach sponsored by the Brandenburg 300 Project. The goal of the Project was to provide 3 million native milkweed seeds and native nectaring wildflower seeds to increase habitat for the Monarch Butterfly in California.  However, we have been lucky enough to place over 64 million seeds (as of August, 2017).
Click above to go to the Dances of the Monarch Butterfly Video

As you probably know the Monarch Butterfly depends on milkweed to lay its eggs, and nectaring wildflowers for food.  Huge amounts of this critical resource have been lost for a number of real-world reasons. We are trying to help increase the number of native milkweed and nectaring plants to help out the Monarch Butterfly.

It has also come to light on 2014 that tropical varieties of milkweed that have been distributed throughout California are actually harmful to our butterflies.  Another goal of this project is to provide these seeds to places to replace and outnumber the non-natives.


A small group of us are offering native-variety milkweed and nectaring wildflower seeds free of charge to anyone who wants them as long as our supply lasts.

No strings attached, no payment required, no donations sought or even accepted. Just free packets of milkweed seeds with some planting instructions. We just ask that they be used as usefully as possible, and that where possible they be planted in locations that will be relatively undisturbed for many years in hopes of promoting long-term sustainability. So far individuals from all over the County, and organizations like the Pacific Grove Natural History Museum, Carmel-by-the-Sea, County of Monterey, MEarth, Homeowners Associations, Master Gardeners Associations, farmers, ranchers, CSUMB’s Return Our Natives Project, Pebble Beach and Tennis Club, MBARI, Moss Landing Marine Labs, the Captain Planet Foundations, commercial nurseries and others have taken some seeds. More than 64 million seeds are already delivered, and millions more are spoken for.  Institutions include: Effie Yaw Nature Center- Sacramento; Placer Nature Center- Auburn; Scout Island Outdoor School- Fresno; Santa Lucia Preserve- Carmel; and, the Redwood Valley Outdoor Education Project- Redwood Valley


The milkweed seeds of a variety native to Monterey County, and almost all of the rest of California. it’s a narrow-leaf milkweed named Asclepias fasicularis. Seed tests and provenance letters are available. 


History of the Monarch Butterfly: 

Russian explorers first to document monarch butterfly in California

A plate illustrating a monarch butterfly taken in the vicinity of San Francisco in October 1816. (Kotzebue, 1821)

By Justin Wheeler – Xerces Society

Published on October 28, 2016


200 years ago, monarchs were observed along the CA coast – will they be there two centuries from now?


It’s October 2016. For a few weeks monarchs have been trickling in from all over the west and aggregating in groves along the California coast to settle in for the winter. Many people have regarded this event as an annual treat, looking forward to the return of the monarchs as surely as the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano (near the Day of San Juan, October 23). For 20 years, researchers and citizen scientists have been documenting overwintering populations of monarchs in California during the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count. 200 years ago, a different set of observers made the first known documentation of a monarch in California, likely collected from a population overwintering there.


In July of 1815, a Russian expedition of 27 men, including two naturalists and an artist, set out to circumnavigate the globe seeking to find a passage across the Arctic Ocean and recording scientific observations along the way. The expedition made just one landfall in California, near San Francisco in October of 1816 where they met the monarch butterfly, collecting a specimen which became the first documented occurrence of the species in California. While the explorers carefully documented the species – they did not describe the event of collection, so it is unclear as to whether they observed the species overwintering en masse, or happened upon a lone butterfly.


While it may seem a frivolous pursuit to chase down the “first” documentation, we know so little about the history of monarch overwintering habits in the west that any data supporting the phenomenon sheds new insight. Over the last 20 years, observations made during the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count has produced a data set that has allowed us to make inferences into the population trends of western monarchs, supporting the finding that overwintering monarchs in California have experienced a 74% decline, mirroring that of monarch declines observed in central Mexico.


It’s reasonable, to wonder then – when did the first human observance of the monarch overwintering event occur?


Several native tribes lived along the California coast for centuries and were attentive and thorough observers of the natural world. Surely it would be hard for them to miss large clusters of butterflies hanging from trees in winter, yet unfortunately so little recorded history exists of the native peoples who made coastal California their home before Spanish and European settlers arrived.


The explorer Cabrillo sailed along the California coast in 1542 but hardly made any trips to land. Vizcaíno, the “discoverer” of Monterey Bay was known to have occupied the Monterey peninsula in the winter of 1602–03, yet his party made no mention of collections of bright orange butterflies dangling from the famous Monterey pines present there. The California missions are well-known features of the California coast, with the first being established in San Diego in 1769. Mission San Diego de Alcalá is 8 miles from Balboa Park, where monarchs may be observed overwintering today. Did the missionaries not make the journey, did they not find the phenomenon worth noting, or were the monarchs simply not there at the time?



Moving forward in time, an anonymous author describes in the Monterey Weekly Herald an autumn walk taken in 1873. The author describes “a large, brown species, spotted with black, the only kind known to perch in flocks.” The poetic account goes on to describe “Millions [sic] were fluttering around; while overhead stout branches of firs dropped with their weight; and all twinkling in shade and sunlight, seemed the personification of happiness in their leafy home.” While this is not a scientific account, and the “firs” described likely to be Monterey pines, the story suggests enough to consider it the earliest account describing overwintering masses of monarch butterflies in California.


Another account from 1881, however, implies the phenomenon was known about in the 1860s. Writing in The American Naturalist, Mrs. A. E. Bush, of San Jose, California, noted: “l have been to Monterey, and was fortunate enough to see the ‘butterfly tree’, or trees, as there are three of them. These trees are the Monterey Pine … and completely covered with live butterflies. To say that there were as many butterflies as leaves upon the trees would not be a very great exaggeration. … A lady resident informed me that for the twelve years she has lived there the appearance has been the same.” That would make the first observance in 1869 or earlier.


As John Lane wrote in Overwintering Monarch Butterflies in California: Past and Present (1993):


“Mystery still surrounds the circumstances of the original discovery of overwintering masses of monarch butterflies in California. Somewhere, one expects, there must be a written account of extreme surprise and delighted fascination with the discovery of trees covered with countless multitudes of live butterflies. The further delight in discovering this “lost” account still awaits us.”


Imagine if our trained WMTC volunteers had been following in the footsteps left behind by native peoples, Spanish Conquistadors, and Russian explorers, consistently documenting the population ebbs and flows for 200 years. What might such data reveal? What picture would emerge? When we go out to record the population this year, we are observing a natural phenomenon whose origins may never be known, but by documenting the populations of today—and preserving the resources they need to survive—we can ensure that it will continue, allowing people to delight in the arrival of monarchs for many years to come.


Please contact us if you, someone you know, or an organization would like some seeds. 

The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History is distributing the seeds. Their website linked here and is

Our email address is:

Xerces California Central Valley Pollinator Seed Mix Planting Instructions. 

Note that the mixes provided through the Brandenburg 300 Project may have a slightly higher percentage of milkweed (Asclepias fasicularis)

Narrow-leaf milkweed (Asclepias fasicularis)

Consider sustainability. Where possible plant some in places

where buildings won’t be built, crops planted, or livestock grazed.

Sowing Seed Directly in the Ground - After 1st Fall Rain

1.     Plant groups of 5 to 20 plants after the first fall rainstorm spaced 12” – 18” apart

2.     2 seeds per plant into weed free, well prepared soil

3.     Cover with 1/4" soil, and keep moist until germinated

In pots in Spring or Early Summer: Planting Instructions

1.     Plant in potting mix in containers, 2 seeds per container

2.     Keep moist until germination, water as needed 1x or 2x a week

3.     Transplant after the first fall rainstorm spaced 12”-18" apart

YouTube Videos (for planting in seed starter tray):

Refrigerate seeds first?

Some recommend treating the milkweed seeds the same way bulbs are treated before planting - it simulates a winter and so when taken out of the fridge and planted, the seed knows its spring and its time to start growing.

Procedure for "wintering" the seeds ("Cold Moist Stratification"):

YouTube Link:

Assemble the following materials:

Dry Sand

¼ cup measure

¼ tsp measure

Ziploc bag


Seed packet


Put into Ziploc bag ¼ cup of dry sand and ¼ tsp of warm water

Shake thoroughly

Add seeds, close and mix well

Open bag and squeeze the air out and re-seal

Tape seed packet to Ziploc and put in fridge for 6 weeks

Success stories

Alternative in the ground 1:

A person in Pacific Grove dug a1-foot deep hole, lined it with fencing to keep gophers out, filled it with potting mix.  He then planted the seeds around 1/4", watered a few times and has had a 90% live plant rate so far.

Alternative in the ground 2:

The Earthways Vegetable Seeder can be set to drag a hole 1/4", while the wheel in the seed holder (the  "cucumber" wheel is recommended) space the seeds every 9 inches, and a chain then drags the dirt over the hole.

Alternative from the air or for inaccessible places 3:

The goal is to seed 10 to 50 square foot patches here and there in otherwise inaccessible areas, not large fields.

In a seedless watermelon cut a modest whole and remove (eat) the good parts.  Prepare a seed mixture with native milkweed and wildflower seeds, balance potting soil.  Close up the hole with a cantaloupe skin held in place with wooden toothpicks.  After the first fall rain confirm appropriate permissions for specific locations, take up in a light plane with an openable window or door and drop on the spot.

Alternative from the air or for inaccessible places 3:

Seed balls:  Form potting mix into balls and roll in seed mixture.  Hopefully when the seed balls hit the seeds will be driven into the ground and covered by the potting soil.

Some ideas from the Web:

First, How Do I Know When my Seedlings are Ready for Transplant to a Bigger Pot or Tray?


When seed have been sown close together in a flat, they grow together rather quickly. They soon become overcrowded, tall and spindly (this is why seed should be sown thinly to begin with) from stretching in competition for light. You may transplant as soon as the stems are over one inch tall and the cotyledons are showing. However, after four true leaves have developed, or the plants begin to touch one another, don’t delay transplanting your seedlings into pots where they will have more space. This website includes pictures of the first true leaves for all of the different species listed, so you can check these pictures if you have doubt about whether your seedlings have true leaves or are only showing the cotyledons.


Now that My Seedlings are Ready to be Transplanted to a Pot, What Do I Do?


If you are growing your seedlings in a seed flat, you will get far superior results if you transplant your seedlings into pots or a larger, divided flat for growing on until they are ready to be planted in the garden; rather than trying to transplant the seedlings directly into the garden at this stage. If you started your seed in individual pots, you will not have to transplant, for the pots provide enough space to develop roots that will serve the young plants well when planted in the garden.


To transplant from a seedling flat, there are several simple steps to follow:


1. Water the seedling flat, using bottom watering, one hour before transplanting, so that seedlings have plenty of water in them to help withstand the shock of transplanting. You should give them a complete soak, so that soil is wet, not just moist.


2. Moisten the soil or growing mix that you will transplant the seedlings into. I recommend using a commercially prepared mix, which has been specially formulated for starting seeds and growing seedlings. Fill the pots or inserts you are using to the brim and level off the potting mix with a ruler or other straight edge. Set the pots in a tray. You may want to use a tray and pot inserts made just for transplants. Or you may simply use a large tray for growing on your transplants, though there is much greater root damage and shock when planting out into the garden from a tray, than transplanting from a pot. The root ball is much easier to keep intact in a pot than in an intermingled tray planting.


3. Dibble the growing mix in each pot by making a hole large enough to fit the seedling’s roots. Push the end of a pot label or a pencil an inch or so into the growing mix and move it back and forth to open up the hole.


4. Gently remove one seedling at a time from the flat. Use a fork or tongue depressor or old label to carefully pry the seedlings apart, as you lift them from the seedling flat. Pull them apart carefully. A small ball of growing mix should cling to the roots. Hold the seedling by the cotyledons, or seed leaves, not by the stems, in order to avoid injury to the stem; the plant can grow new leaves, but NOT a new stem!


5. Place the root ball into the hole you have made for it. Gently firm the growing mix around the roots once, then fill in the hole so that the soil surface is level in the pot. Cover only the roots and base of the stem, not the leaves, and do not worry if the potting mix is not perfectly level – the less handling of the roots at this point, the better.


6. Label the pots with the name of the plant, the date sown and the date transplanted. Of course, if you used a label when you first planted your seed, you can simply add the transplant date to the original label.


7. Thoroughly soak with water with a little fertilizer in it, from the bottom, the same way as for a seedling flat.




More on transplanting




The first leaves to unfold when a seed germinates are called “cotyledone.” These first leaves often look different from the leaves that follow. Those that follow are considered “true leaves.” When seedlings develop their first set of true leaves, they are ready for transplanting.


You can transplant your seedlings into any type of container you wish. We transplant ours in 1204 trays, which house 48 separated plants per 11×21 plastic container. This tray is placed into an open flat.


Whatever container you choose to use, make sure it has proper drainage. You may wish to buy commercial plastic trays (such as the 1204) and place some gravel above the drainage hole in the bottom of container for proper filtering. Fill the container with the appropriate potting soil, water down completely, and let the soil completely absorb the water.


Once the soil has absorbed the water, take a popsicle stick (or old pencil) and place a circular hole wherever you intend to place a seedling. (In the case of the plastic compartmentalized trays [such as the 1204], place one hole in the center of each compartment.


Now, with your index finger, carefully lift out a portion of seedlings from your germination container. In the case of the 20-row seeding tray, lift out about a one-inch portion of a row, scooping it from the bottom. Carefully, separate the seedlings (from the bottom side-not the top and not the root), taking each seedling and gently poking it into the holes you have just made. Allow for at least 1/3-1/2 of the seedling below the soil mark. Take your thumb and forefinger and gently squeeze the soil around the plant, and go on to the next one. Once you get the hang of this it all goes very quickly and smoothly.


Once your transplanting is completed, you can lower your temperature requirements (60-70 degrees is fine), remove any bottom heat source and begin to watch your plants flourish.


You can now water with your watering can, preferably one which can “sprinkle,” rather than “pour” the water into the container.


Do not over-water however, and do not allow the soil to completely dry out.


Prior to planting outdoors, it helps to harden off your transplants. For a few hours during the warmth of the day set them outside and allow them to acclimate to the outdoors.


When the plants are anywhere from six to eight weeks old, your outside area is free from frost and the soil temperature reaches a steady 50 degrees, you’re ready to plant these puppies outdoors.


Some thoughts from Pat Regan, my favorite biologist:

Seed quantity is completely based on attrition. 2 seeds raises the odds of getting something to germinate and this species is easy to crowd without having to sacrifice one of the plants.

Spacing for seed in the ground versus live plant transplanting is based on similar thought process (bird in the hand versus two in the bush…..) A plant that is already “up” and growing actively is the proverbial bird in the hand and can be  given more room to spread knowing there is already evidence that it will. Seed sowing is done closer together simply because there is no guarantee of germination and then if it does there is still no guarantee that the plant will survive to reach a size that could spread. The odds are better for the living transplant to achieve maturity than the seed in the ground.
Timing of planting out live plants should be based on the same specific info as other details. The terms fall and winter can mean a lot of different things to those who will read them. So we need to be careful with semantics. All native California species of Asclepias go deathly dormant from generally October through February, though some go earlier and some later. A. fascicularis generally goes a little later and sprouts new growth a little sooner than others, but it is a microclimate factor that affects this. Elevation, diurnal temp. fluctuation, wind and available moisture will make the plants in the Preserve come up later and stay green for a shorter duration than those in your yard.  You could probably safely put out new plants from September through May. I could put out new plants (and expect them to survive with no assistance) from November to March. There are no problems with planting during a rain storm or any time in winter other than the week of Arctic weather that we get now and then. If the live plants get planted out too long before the rainy season, they can desiccate and die before they get a chance to start new growth. Fall being September 21 to December 21, “early fall” is too early for transplanting unless they are getting watered by human assistance.  So my suggestion on timing is to say “plant live plants  into the ground between October and March. Provide deep soaking at planting and again at least once a week until the  rainy season begins.”
“Well prepared” is indeed a vague term found in  gardening books and commercial nurseries and seed sellers. I am not even sure what it means. I would simply say weed free .(Which of course will be ironic to somebody given we are promoting milkweed.)
Sowing in containers should probably be narrowed to suggested sizes like 2” to 4” squares or plug trays. I am assuming this to be preparation for planting out into the ground eventually. Anything larger than a 4” pot becomes too large for practicality unless the plan is for keeping the plants in containers for the long term.
The seed sowing window can be expanded to September through May though ambient temperature and soil temperature will vary and thus expected time to germination as well.

 - - - -  A note about keeping seed dry and cool until sowing would be helpful. It can take some heat, obviously it survives extended warm dry summers on the ground in natural habitat.  But the optimum would be to keep it dry indoors and below 70 degrees until sowing. The reason some sources describe chilling or “stratifying” the seed is to trick the seed into responding to the cold by germinating or breaking dormancy. I often seal summer collected seed into zip lock bags and put them in the refrigerator for a couple months before I sow them. That gives me a jump start in September and October when the seed responds as though it has been on the ground through winter.

Storing seeds

The seeds should be stored in a cool, dry place away from bugs, rodets and moisture. We store them for several years without a dramatic drop in germination rates.

Standard details: 

California milkweeds prefer full sun and are not likely to tolerate much shade. Soil moisture- many California milkweeds can be drought tolerant, once established, but they do require a fair amount of soil moisture to get established.

When seeds are planted during a dry year and not provided with supplemental irrigation, they may fail to germinate and establish.

Some information on height at maturity is available in these documents: and
Monarchs on Eucalyptus in Carmel Highlands
Possibly Sustainable Locations to Consider:

One of the nice things about milkweed is that they don't need huge swaths of land.  They tend to clump together in groups of 5 to 100 plants or so, one square foot per plant.  100 Plants fit into an area 10 foot by 10 foot.  So hopefully there is a space here, and a sunny patch there where you can plant milkweeds.

*   Dedicated greenbelts and open space
*   Cemeteries
*   The setback spaces between homes and commercial properties
*   Over the leach fields of septic systems
*   Banks of aqueducts and other water systems
*   Local, state, regional and federal parks, especially in locations far from walking trails.
*   Monuments and reserves
*   Churches and temples
*   Areas within agricultural areas that are not practical for farming, and for some topographical or other practical reason are unlikely to get overspray from aerial herbicides