SUNY Cortland Graduate Student Leads Milkweed Planting

05/01/2019

SUNY Cortland Graduate Student Leads Milkweed Planting

Graduate student Nicole Kuzdzal was driving home one day, brainstorming about a project.

Kuzdzal, who is pursuing a master’s in therapeutic recreation and working as a graduate assistant for Outdoor Pursuits, had been tasked with creating an environmental stewardship campaign as part of a grant Outdoor Pursuits had received from an organization called the Outdoor Foundation.

She heard a radio commercial for Agway, a lawn and garden store, which was offering free milkweed seeds to help sustain the local population of monarch butterflies.

Kuzdzal brought the idea of planting milkweed on campus to her boss, Connor Cumisky ’14, M ’18, assistant director of recreational sports for Outdoor Pursuits. Cumisky loved the idea, in part because he knew Professor Steve Broyles, chair of the Biological Sciences Department, is a milkweed expert.

Together, Broyles and Kuzdzal teamed up to create a milkweed planting event on Monday, May 6. Students, faculty and staff were welcome to join Outdoor Pursuits plant milkweed from 3 to 5 p.m. in two locations: the planter boxes outside Memorial Library as well as the bioswale between the Student Life Center and Lusk Field House.

Nicole Kuzdzal portrait
Kuzdzal

“In high school I was involved with my environmental science club and loved earth science and participated in an event called Environthon,” said Kuzdzal, an Allegany, N.Y. native. “Having that background, I was aware of the plight of the monarch butterflies and I did a little more research on them and this area doesn’t have a lot of milkweed to support the population.”

The monarch butterfly population has declined recently, largely because of the loss of milkweed to pesticides, climate change and human development across their migration route, which stretches from Canada to Mexico. Milkweed is the sole food source for monarch caterpillars.

Broyles is co-principal investigator of a $1 million grant to explore the molecular and chemical ecology of milkweed. So when he heard Kuzdzal was looking to explore a planting on campus, he was glad to lend his expertise. He helped choose the location of the planting sites and also donated milkweed plants being grown in the campus greenhouse.

“He’s helped us a tremendous amount. Honestly, I’d be lost without him,” Kuzdzal said. “He told me good areas and which breeds of milkweed would be best for each area. I had no idea there was more than one type. We’ve even been exploring planting some in Hoxie Gorge but that is still very much a work in progress.”

Kuzdzal, who plans to earn her master’s in May 2020, is looking for a career in adapted sports and also in connecting people with the outdoors.