Got milkweed?

A group working to improve conditions for monarch butterflies and other pollinators is asking you to share.

The Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative is collecting donations of milkweed seeds for use in creating pollinator habitats across the state. It’s a way of supporting vital pollinators and especially monarch butterflies, whose numbers are declining.

You can drop off seeds at the Summit County office of the Ohio State University Extension, 1100 Graham Road Circle, Stow.

The collection continues until Oct. 30.

You probably already know that milkweed is essential to the life cycle of monarch butterflies. Monarchs need milkweed to lay their eggs, and monarch caterpillars need milkweed leaves to eat.

Ohio is important to the monarchs’ migration, too. Butterflies that hatch here fly north to Canada in summer and then pass back through Ohio on their way to Mexico to spend the winter.

And milkweed benefits more than just monarchs. Nectar produced by milkweed feeds various types of insects that pollinate plants, a necessary step in the production of many of our food crops.

The donation program started last year as a seven-county pilot project, said Marci Lininger, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She is also a coordinator of the Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative, a network of organizations that works to create and improve wildlife habitats in the state and raise awareness about the importance of pollinators.

“We hope to do this every year, assisting with the national strategy to provide 1.5 billion new stems of milkweed nationwide by 2019,” Lininger said in an email.

By asking for seed donations, the group is hoping to give Ohioans a sense of ownership in the project and an interest in the plight of pollinators and their importance to our food supply, she said.

Lininger said the milkweed seeds will be used for creating habitats in a variety of settings, including areas with utility transmission lines, parks, local government projects and institutions such as schools and churches.

Some will be used by the Ohio Department of Transportation, which has been planting many of its roadside rights-of-way in wildflowers. That not only benefits monarchs and other pollinators, but it also reduces mowing costs, said ODOT’s press secretary, Matt Bruning.

Interested in helping? Here are some tips for harvesting milkweed seed pods:

• Collect seeds only on your own property. If you want to collect seeds on someone else’s land, ask permission.

• Wear appropriate outdoor clothing and disposable gloves to protect against milkweed sap, which can be irritating. Don’t touch your face or eyes with the gloves.

• Seed pods are ready to be picked when they have turned dry and either gray or brown in color, and the center seam of the pod pops open with gentle pressure.

• Keep the harvested seed pods in paper bags. Avoid plastic bags, which attract moisture.

• Store the pods in a cool, dry place until you can deliver them to your local conservation district office.

• You don’t have to clean the seeds. Lininger said the Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative is working with governmental agencies and institutions to tackle that job, including the Ohio Department of Corrections, Ohio State and Wright State universities, Ohio Soil and Water Conservation districts and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or mbrecken@thebeaconjournal.com. You can also become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckABJ and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.