Returning Essential Wildflowers to America’s Landscapes
Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) are the required host plants for caterpillars of the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and thus play a critical role in the monarch’s life cycle. The loss of milkweed plants in the monarch’s spring and summer breeding areas across the United States is believed to be a significant factor contributing to the reduced number of monarchs recorded in overwintering sites in California and Mexico. Agricultural intensification, development of rural lands, and the use of mowing and herbicides to control roadside vegetation have all reduced the abundance of milkweeds in the landscape. To help offset the loss of monarch breeding habitat, the North American Monarch Conservation Plan (published in 2008 by the tri-national Commission for Environmental Cooperation) recommends the planting of regionally appropriate native milkweed species. However, a scarcity of milkweed seed in many regions of the United States has limited opportunities to include the plants in regional restoration efforts.
To address this seed shortage, the Xerces Society launched Project Milkweed, with support from the Monarch Joint Venture, a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Innovation Grant, and private foundations. In collaboration with the native seed industry, the USDA-NRCS Plant Materials Program, and community partners, Xerces is producing new sources of milkweed seed in areas of the monarch’s breeding range where seed has not been reliably available: California, the Great Basin, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Florida.
To further support this effort, the Xerces Society is:
• raising public awareness about milkweeds’ value to monarchs and native pollinators,
• promoting the inclusion of milkweeds in habitat restoration efforts,
• developing milkweed seed production guidelines, and
• building new markets for milkweed seed.
For More Information
Click on the icons below to read or download a description of Project Milkweed and regional guides to the native milkweeds of North America.
The Florida Museum of Natural History, in collaboration with the Xerces Society and the Butterfly Conservation Initiative, has produced two educational brochures that feature information about monarchs and milkweeds. One side of the brochure describes the plight of the monarch and encourages the planting of regionally appropriate milkweed species, while the second side showcases larvae of other butterfly species and their associated host plants. A brochure for the Southeastern U.S. is at left, below; the brochure on the right was developed for the Eastern U.S., in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service.
Milkweed Population Survey
The Xerces Society, with support from the Monarch Joint Venture, has prepared a short web-based survey to gather information about the location of milkweed stands in the western states that potentially serve as important monarch breeding areas. If you know where milkweed grows, we’d appreciate you completing the survey.
The NRCS Plant Materials Program develops innovative planting technology to solve the nation’s most important resource concerns and is a proven leader in conservation plant selection. The Plant Materials Program includes a network of 27 Plant Materials Centers and associated Plant Materials Specialists serving all 50 states and territories. Previous work between the Xerces Society and the NRCS Plant Materials Program has supported the restoration of thousands of acres of pollinator habitat nationwide.
In Florida and New Mexico, Xerces is working with the Brooksville Plant Materials Center and the Los Lunas Plant Materials Center to conduct an initial seed increase of select milkweed species. The seed stock that is produced will be transferred to private native seed producers for commercial-scale production. Xerces is also working with the Great Basin Plant Materials Center in Nevada to utilize on-site milkweed populations as a source of initial seed stock for seed increase work in the Great Basin.
- NRCS Plant Materials Program
- Brooksville Plant Materials Center
- Los Lunas Plant Materials Center
- Great Basin Plant Materials Center
The Xerces Society and Hedgerow Farms of Winters, California, have partnered to produce new sources of native California milkweed seed for use in large-scale restoration projects across the Central Valley. To date, over 150 pounds of narrow-leaved milkweed seed (Asclepias fascicularis) have been produced and Hedgerow Farms has also launched production of showy milkweed (A. speciosa), heartleaf milkweed (A. cordifolia), and woollypod milkweed (A. eriocarpa).
Hedgerow Farms specializes in producing high quality seed of source-identified California native grasses, sedges, rushes and forbs, and also sells plug transplants. Hedgerow Farms’ plant materials are used for habitat restoration, agricultural revegetation, erosion control, and urban and rural landscaping. Hedgerow Farms also offers a seed mix developed with the Xerces Society for general pollinator conservation projects in California.
Xerces has partnered with Native American Seed, one of the largest native seed producers in Texas, to increase the seed production of two milkweed species, antelope horns (Asclepias asperula ssp. capricornu) and green milkweed (Asclepias viridis). Both species are important host plants for spring migrating monarchs that arrive in Texas upon their return from overwintering sites in Mexico.
Native American Seed offers 100% native and locally harvested wildflower & grass seeds, plant materials that are invaluable for the preservation of a unique genetic diversity and for the restoration of ecosystems.
Community Partners in Arizona
Xerces and Arizona Western College are working together to produce rush milkweed (Asclepias subulata) seed. This unique, desert-adapted species has photosynthetic stems, is nearly leafless, and blooms several times per year. Environmental Biology professors Ted Martinez and Megan Lahti and their students have established a seed production field using seed wild-collected by the Desert Botanical Garden. AWC students have been maintaining and caring for the plants, monitoring their use by monarch and queen butterflies, and harvesting and cleaning seed.
The Painted Lady Vineyard in Skull Valley is working with the Xerces Society to produce seed of spider milkweed (Asclepias asperula). This species grows in open woodlands, chaparral, grasslands, and along roadsides, and bears striking ball-shaped clusters of purple and green flowers. The Vineyard and volunteers have established a seed production field, using seedlings produced by Greenheart Farms in Arroyo Grande, California.
For more information about Project Milkweed, please contact Brianna Borders, Plant Ecologist.