Of Monarchs And Milkweed – The Story of Leaf 2 Wing


Milkweed seeds
A handful of milkweed seeds. Photo: Chris Scharf

The weather was cold and grey, but the smiles were warm as we gathered in a circle on a wooded lot just outside of Vegreville, Alta. All eyes were on Len Davis, founder of Leaf 2 Wing, as he reached into his pocket and retrieved his precious cargo — three small packets of milkweed seeds. 

Milkweed is the sole food source for the larva of the monarch butterfly, a species in rapid decline. Monarchs are migratory, travelling up to 3,000 miles each year between their hibernation and spawning grounds, pollinating millions of plants along the way. Their numbers, however, having been falling rapidly as herbicides and urban expansion have decimated the milkweed they depend on.

Len Davis, Leaf 2 Wing
Len Davis, founder of Leaf 2 Wing Photo: Chris Scharf

Davis learned of the monarch’s plight through a children’s book purchased for his son.

“The whole book is [about] this caterpillar going through all the stages of life, turning into a butterfly, and finally making it to Mexico. We read it a few nights and it just kind of got me thinking,” he said.

When, a few days later, he came across an article further detailing the monarch’s decline, Davis was inspired to act.

He began by researching and locating native strains of milkweed to plant in his home garden. Then, in January 2014, he launched Leaf 2 Wing as a hub for information about the plight of monarch butterflies. Within weeks he added a projects page outlining his ideas to encourage the spread of milkweed throughout the Edmonton region and began reaching out to others.

An ad placed on Kijiji rapidly expanded his network of connections, drawing offers from graphic designers, photographers and publicists to help promote his cause. Most importantly, he began receiving emails from farmers and property owners, inviting him to plant milkweed on their land.

volunteers milkweed seeding
Volunteers pitch in on Leaf 2 Wing’s first official milkweed seeding. Photo: Chris Scharf

It was just such an offer that brought 15 of Davis’ friends and acquaintances together for Leaf 2 Wing’s first official milkweed seeding on a chilly Saturday in early May. The landowner had spotted Davis’ ad and contacted him to volunteer five acres east of Vegreville. Armed with only a cache of 50-odd seeds, the possible impact of our action seemed small, but Davis was positive and upbeat.

“Really, what I’m hoping to do is get it established,” he said. “Once these plants take root, we’ll come back out, we’ll gather pods, and we won’t just have three packets of seeds — [we’ll have] thousands of seeds.”

This is the philosophy that lies at the heart of Davis’ vision for Leaf 2 Wing. “Raising awareness is always part of it,” he said. “Hopefully it will inspire people elsewhere to do it. If you raise awareness, you can turn the situation around, and that’s our ultimate goal.”

Leaf 2 Wing logoLeaf 2 Wing continues to seek volunteers to help with its ongoing activities including further group plantings, Project Seed Ninja (covertly sowing milkweed seed in secluded wild areas around the city), Project Milkweed City (working with the City of Edmonton to add milkweed to planters and green spaces throughout the urban landscape), and Project Monarch Way (making proposals to municipalities and the province to plant milkweed along highways and roads). Anyone interested in volunteering with Leaf 2 Wing or looking for further information on obtaining or planting milkweed seeds can contact Davis at len@leaf2wing.org.


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