An Elgin legislator wants to preserve milkweed and prevent local governments from getting in the way, all to protect the dwindling monarch butterflies.
State Rep. Anna Moeller introduced House Bill 2568, which would make milkweed the state's official wildflower, and House Bill 685, which would prohibit municipalities and counties from classifying it as "noxious" or "exotic" and fining residents who have it on their properties.
Both bills were approved by the House and are awaiting a vote by the Senate.
"We're very happy, very excited that the legislature gets it that monarchs are important," said Terri Treacy, Springfield representative of the Sierra Club's Illinois chapter. "Anything that they can do to help them, and to draw attention on them, is appreciated."
More than 30 municipalities classify milkweed as noxious, including Gilberts, Lake Barrington, Libertyville, Round Lake Beach, South Elgin, Villa Park and Yorkville, according to the Sierra Club.
Some governments that ban milkweed, however, also have monarch protection plans and monarch gardens in the works, which seems contradictory, Treacy said.
State Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Wheaton Republican, was among those who voted "no" on Moeller's bills. She didn't return a call for comment.
State Sen. Tom Rooney, a Palatine Republican, said he opposes Moeller's bills. There's no need for any new state designations, and local governments should decide for themselves what to do about milkweed, he said.
Experts believe the decline of monarchs, which migrate from Mexico to Canada and the United States, is tied to deforestation in Mexico and the decline of milkweed in prairie states on their migratory route, said Moeller, a Democrat.
That's because milkweed is the one source of food for monarch caterpillars that are hatched from the eggs the butterflies lay on the plant.
"One way to try to preserve the plant is at least to make it so that you are not fined or run afoul of a local ordinance for having it on your property," Moeller said. "A lot of people have become aware of the importance of milkweed and are growing it in their gardens."
Among them is Cary resident Tamara Martyniuk Jazwinski, who called milkweed "a gorgeous plant with a beautiful scent." In fact, she loves it so much that she mows around it and collects its pods to give as Christmas presents, she said.
"I've seen the monarchs flock to them. It's one of my favorite plants," she said. "I believe in having plants in my garden that are as natural as possible, and spending those extra times weeding by hand is worth it."
It's likely milkweed ordinances are rarely enforced and date back to when the areas were more rural, said Richard Hentschel, horticulture educator at the University of Illinois Extension, Kane County. In fact, milkweed and their seeds are commonly available at garden stores, he said.
Moeller's bills apply to Asclepias milkweed species native to Illinois, some of which are classified as poisonous to cows and livestock, Hentschel said. But the animals typically don't eat milkweed, unless there is no other food source or it ends up in their hay, he said.
Kay Havens, senior director for ecology and conservation at the Chicago Botanic Garden, said she is "absolutely" in favor of Moeller's initiative.
Milkweed used to grow commonly on the edges of farmland, but herbicide use in industrial-scale farming has killed a lot of it, Havens said.
"That has been really tough for monarch butterflies," she said.