Among all the many seed distribution strategies I’ve seen discussed or proposed, this one is both simple and beautiful. Jenny Kendler’s Milkweed Dispersal Balloons project consists of a mobile unit towing a flotilla of balloons filled with milkweed seed. As the artist says on her website:
The artist and a team of performers walk the specially designed cart through Midwestern cities, engaging with families and individuals, by passing out biodegradable balloons filled with floating cloud-like milkweed seeds. These transparent balloons are pinned to people’s shirts with buttons showing fragmentary close-ups of monarch wings, as the story of the interaction between milkweed and monarchs is told.
In slightly less than a decade, Jenny Kendler has become widely known as an artist/advocate for biodiversity. She’s currently the first artist-in-residence with the National Resources Defense Council, co-creator of the Endangered Species Print Project, and has exhibited her work internationally. Most of her projects—with names like Tell it to the Birds, Wild Blotters, and A Place of Light and Wind—are about reconnecting (mostly) urban-dwellers with the natural world. In one project description, she recalls the relationship kids have with nature—picking up worms, getting excited about dandelions, and just playing in the dirt. Lifelong gardeners are able to maintain that relationship (if not their love for dandelions), but for too many individuals—and corporations—with adulthood comes distance and, often, the need to subdue and conquer.
I like this attitude; in many ways, my garden is my attempt to maintain some kind of connection to the wild. So far, that hasn’t included the cultivation of asclepias syriaca, and it’s unlikely to. As much as I’d like to have a meadow situation with sun-loving pollinator-friendly plants, I haven’t the conditions for it, so I do what I can with pollinator-friendlies that are good in partial shade.
To be clear, this is an awareness-raising project. The problems underlying monarch endangerment aren’t going to be solved by seed balloons. But we need more than scientific reports and cautionary rants—we need the artists and all the other help we can get before the bats, bees, and butterflies get wiped out altogether.