Last fall, Eric Miers embarked on a mission to dispel the milkweed myth — the idea that the pod-studded plant is nothing more than a useless garden invader.
He collected its seeds and went door to door in Inver Grove Heights, imploring fellow residents to plant them in their yards to attract monarch butterflies.
"Monarch populations are decreasing in numbers. And I knew from previous knowledge that the only thing they'll lay eggs on is milkweed," said Miers, a senior at Simley High School in Inver Grove Heights.
The effort was part of Miers' Eagle Scout project, which wrapped up this February. "There was a certain necessity for it," Miers said of his endeavor. "If you have [butterflies] you're not relying on just one type of pollinator, which is generally bees."
In September, Miers collected and harvested hundreds of milkweed pods at Darvan Acres, a protected natural area in Inver Grove Heights.
After doing research, he created a handout and 1,000 seed packets. He and fellow Scouts distributed them in February.
Milkweed must go through "cold stratification," or a period of real or simulated winter, before it will grow. Miers advised the residents receiving the seeds that they should keep them cool for awhile, even putting them in a refrigerator or freezer, until spring. Then they could simply toss them on the ground.
Most people who answered their doors were receptive to the idea of planting milkweed, Miers said. A few viewed it as a weed, but others already had it growing in their yard.
Miers' project offers a model of the kinds of endeavors possible at Darvan Acres, a 108-acre parcel in Inver Grove Heights that recently gained protection through Dakota County.
The conservation easement designation happened last May after nearly a decade of effort. Dakota County paid $3.9 million to secure it. In seven years, the county will own the land outright, while the landowner retains ownership and manages it until that time.
Unlike many other conservation easements, Darvan Acres isn't open to the public. Owner Vance Grannis Jr. wanted the land to host a nature education center and to serve as a site for environmental projects.
Grannis is still actively involved in the property, christened "Darvan Acres" because it combines his own name with his wife Darlene's.
He suggested the milkweed idea to Miers. Previous Eagle Scout candidates have completed projects on Grannis' acreage, including making trail signs and building bluebird houses.
Grannis said Miers' seed collection fits with his goals for the property, which is home to forests, prairies and some of the county's most pristine bodies of water. "Part of what I'm trying to do here generally is help the butterflies and … birds and insects," said Grannis, a bird enthusiast who once raised trumpeter swans for the DNR.
Milkweed — which sports pinkish-purple blooms — grows throughout the parcel's fields.
Other endeavors are in the works. The University of Minnesota recently asked to experiment with planting various seed mixtures there to determine which combination of native grasses and flowers grows best, Grannis said. Eventually, the hardiest mix will be exported to prairies in western Minnesota.
"It isn't that this is the end place to do everything," he said, adding that the area is an ideal testing ground because it's near the metro area.
The Darvan Acres to-do list this spring includes removing buckthorn and thistle without hurting butterflies or birds.
Al Singer, Dakota County land conservation manager, praised Miers' project.
"He was doing something really, really directly to help pollinators out," Singer said. "It's a nice model for individual action."
He looks forward to seeing similar efforts take shape on the land now that it is preserved.
"This could be just the beginning of the kinds of things that could make the world a better place," Singer said.