Not only has Medford resident Tom Landis planted weeds in his backyard, but he intends to propagate them.

"There is no source of seed — you can't go out and buy it," he explained.

But the retired forest scientist is not growing weeds for weeds' sake. In two raised beds where the plants are neatly tucked in, he is growing native milkweed to attract monarch butterflies.

A nearby sign reads "Monarch way station," welcoming the vividly colored insect with its orange, black and white wings that resemble royal cloaks.

"I'm thinking, 'Build it and they will come,' " he said, a reference to the "Field of Dreams" movie about a farmer who builds a baseball diamond in his cornfield.

Landis, 66, who has a doctorate in forestry, spent his career working in U.S. Forest Service nurseries, becoming the agency's top nursery specialist in the West. In his retirement, he has launched an effort he calls "Milkweeds for Monarchs" to help provide habitat for monarch butterflies.

"We'll collect seeds from my plants and other peoples' plants and I'll go out and collect a bunch of seed from the wild," he said. "Next spring we'll grow more plants and seeds. We would give them away to people."

He envisions monarch gardens containing milkweed planted along biking and hiking trails.

"Milkweed is the only plant the monarch caterpillars eat — they have to have those to survive," he said. "Butterflies lay their eggs on that. They pupate on that. Then they take off."

He also has planted flowers which will provide nectar to the monarchs flitting among the milkweed beds.

"When I got here, I started reading about the plight of the monarchs," Landis said, referring to reports by scientists of their population decreases in North America. "I talked to people who say there used to be a lot of them around here. They are like an indicator species. If they are hurting, then something is not right.

"They don't have many natural predators," he added. "The problem has to be they don't have enough milkweed or we are destroying their winter habitat."

The winter habitat for monarchs from the Northwest is the central California coast, he noted.

Fellow Forest Service retiree Tom Dew, 66, who was reared in the Rogue Valley, recalls seeing monarchs frequently as a youngster. He rarely sees them today, he said.

"I remember as a kid finding milkweed, getting monarch cocoons, putting them in jars and watching them grow into butterflies," said the Medford area resident.

His wife, Linda Duffy, a retired ranger who was in charge of the Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District, has planted several milkweed plants this year on their rural property .

"We had a few monarchs come through when we bought this property about five years ago, but they seem to have really dropped off," she said. "So we started building a butterfly garden to attract them. We want to create a milkweed network in our region for monarchs."

In the Applegate Valley, Linda Kappen, an education assistant at Applegate Elementary School, helped start a butterfly habitat at the school 12 years ago.

"When we built the garden, I wanted to make it monarch-friendly so I got milkweed," she said. "Monarchs come back every year."

Each spring, the school sells milkweed as a fundraiser for an after-school art and nature class.

Landis purchased some milkweed plants from Kappen but also transplanted some native plants he found growing wild.

The monarch caterpillars are brightly striped, apparently Mother Nature's way of warning predators the critter is both foul tasting and toxic.

"Milkweed sap is toxic," he said. "Monarchs incorporate that sap in their bodies and birds lead them alone. It's fascinating. And you have to marvel how far they are able to travel."

In the West, monarchs from as far north as British Columbia fly south to winter along California's central forested coast, many in the Santa Cruz and Monterrey area, he said. Their counterparts along the East Coast fly south to central Mexico.

But Monarch Watch, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving the species, reported that the number of monarch butterflies spending the winter in a group of Mexican mountaintops dropped nearly 60 percent this year.

The decrease is believed to be tied to habitat loss, including wintering sites when the insects are most vulnerable, Landis said.

"But there is a lot we don't know about them," he said. "Right now, we are just trying to create habitat. I've talked to a lot of people here in the valley who want to try and plant milkweed and encourage monarchs to come back."

Landis would like to see some milkweed grown in parks to host monarchs.

"Unfortunately, being called a weed, it has a negative connotation," he said. "But they really aren't a bad-looking plant."

For more information on monarchs, check out

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or

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