Planting for posterity: Rifle man hopes increasing milkweed helps grow pollinator population

A Monarch Caterpillar on milkweed in New England.
Getty Images

Patches of brush and vegetation newly awakened by spring split Larry Anderson’s Rifle backyard from a panorama view of the Roan Plateau.

Situated within this bristly meadow was a carpet of flowering purple musk mustard. On April 19, its sweet perfume hitchhiked in high winds as Anderson told a story on how he uses budding milkweeds to lure pollinators.

“What I did in the back here is, I planted 400 square feet this time last year,” Anderson said. “Then, in June, I got monarchs.”

Right now, the U.S. Forest Service worker is on a mission to attract the dwindling monarch butterfly population to more than just the confines of his backyard. The effort also aims to attract other pollinators, like bees.

On April 6, Anderson approached Rifle City Council with a proposal to donate milkweeds to be planted in at least 12 ideal spots located throughout the city.

Rifle resident Larry Anderson shows milkweed plants in front of his house April 19.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Anderson said he originally potted the plants at home, in January. He germinated the seeds in his fridge before planting them in pots. He then transferred the plants to a makeshift greenhouse he built in his yard.

Milkweed plants are conducive to monarchs, and making its nectar more abundant can spur an uptick in its population, Anderson said.

“This is the first experimentation,” He said. “We’ll see.”

Pollinators like the monarch butterfly have declined in population over the years, data provided by Anderson show. The amount of monarch butterflies overwintering in California alone dropped from 1.2 million to just 272,000 between 1996-2016.

A milkweed plant grown by Rifle resident Larry Anderson.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Meanwhile, spring and summer in Colorado see monarchs migrating in from either California or Mexico.

“Seventy-five percent of the flowering plants that we have depend on pollinators,” Anderson said. “And then 35% of our food source depends on pollinators.”

Rifle Parks and Recreation Director Tom Whitmore said planting seeds conducive to pollinators is a project everyone can agree upon. Which is why the parks and recreation department is using $2,000 to help support milkweed maintenance costs.

“It’s just critical to humanity,” he said. “For years, people took that for granted, because pollinators did their thing, and we didn’t have to think about it.”

On an overcast Friday morning, Anderson took a group of kids to a green space straddling the Brenden Rifle 7 Theaters building. Using spades and plastic bottles of water, they planted milkweed in the hopes they would eventually attract pollinators.

Caeson Jinkins, left, and Tilden Bevan plant milkweed in Rifle on Friday.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

The next intended target for milkweed planting is Centennial Park. There, the intention is to one day find local students studying the characteristics of a monarch, fluttering from flower to flower.

For Anderson, an effort like this also gives residents a chance to do their part in enhancing the small piece of ground we have.

“It’s establishing a legacy that our kids and our grandkids can see, appreciate and participate in. I don’t want to see that go away,” he said. “I would like to see that grow.”

Planting milkweed in Rifle on Friday are, from left, Caeson Jinkins, 11, Tilden Bevan, 9, and Tiffany Bevan.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or

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