Above, Migrating monarchs feeding in Dallas. Courtesy of Dallas Trinity Trails.
Oct. 5, 2015
Texas now has a Monarch Czar. This is not the butterfly equivalent of a Queen Bee. Nor is it an official consular position. No, Grace Barnett is a fulltime employee of National Wildlife Federation. She started work Tuesday in Austin. Her actual title is Monarch Outreach Specialist, and she is charged with promoting planting of milkweed by cities, municipalities and citizens. The reason is the 90 percent loss in our monarch population over recent years.
The National Wildlife Federation's Monarch Outreach Specialist Grace Barnett started work last week in Austin.
Monarchs are appearing right now in North Texas, on their migration south from Canada and northernmost New England, flying 25 miles per day, according to MonarchWatch.org. They are hungry and looking for a place to rest, sip nectar and raise some offspring before the final flight of this migration, to mountains west of Mexico City and the fir trees that grow there. They will overwinter in the fir groves.
Problem is, monarch larvae—caterpillars—are picky eaters. Milkweed or nothing. And milkweed plants in the U. S. are dwindling toward nothing.
“We are concerned about the great flyway through the center of the U. S., along Interstate 35,” Barnett’s boss, NWF’s CEO Collin O’Mara stated on Texas Standard’s Tuesday morning radio broadcast.
Development is overtaking wild land where milkweed grows, and the agriculture industry has greatly increased use of herbicides on fields where Monsanto’s new “Roundup Resistant” strains of GMO soy, corn and other crops are grown. Native milkweeds and all other vegetation but the genetically modified crop are killed off.
Barnett’s first official duties include enlisting Texas mayors to take the "Mayors' Monarch Pledge,” to help counter these threats to the great migration. Mayors are invited to promote milkweed planting on public landscapes, through city initiatives and by citizens. Austin Mayor Steve Adler has already signed up.
“They could plant milkweed on City Hall grounds, in medians, in parks,” suggests O’Mara.
Butterfly weed (A. tuberosa) is a milkweed native to Texas. Courtesy of Thomas Muller/Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center.
"Once we have commitments, we'll set up a network of groups to come up with a local strategy for monarchs, and invite more residents to get involved," says Barnett.
Her background is work with community coalitions on public health and safety issues, such as Texans Standing Tall.
“Basically, engaging people who are passionate for a cause…I’m still looking for someone who doesn’t love monarchs.”
For residents who want to help the monachs now, milkweed plants may be found locally at resources listed below. Native milkweeds (Asclepius viridis, A. asperula, A. tuberosa) are preferred by far.
“With no pesticides added to it or around it,” instructs My Monarch Guide.com.
Tropical species (Asclepias currasavica) can be used in a pinch, but should be cut back sharply in late fall, to avoid disrupting this ancient migration by providing winter feeding sites far north from the normal winter feeding grounds. Holdover tropical plants may also harbor disease.
Monarchs showed up in Frisco and Pottsboro Wednesday, reported on Monarch Butterfly Migration News webpage.
“For several days I have been seeing a few monarchs, and this morning I was able to count 15 in about 30 minutes, small to very large butterflies,” journaled an anonymous Frisco butterfly-watcher. Chris J. of Sherman sighted “50 to 60 monarchs on a button bush” in Pottsboro.
At 25 miles a day, Mapquest can help you guesstimate when they may arrive in your neighborhood from Frisco, Pottsboro or wherever else sightings are reported.
Flowering nectar plants, milkweeds and a water source attract them to stop over.
How many plants do you need to feed some butterflies?
“Several,” suggests Barnett, "to avoid competition among the caterpillars. A caterpillar can eat one leaf or several…especially when they are bigger, at the end of the process."
From hatching out of the egg to spinning its chrysalis, the monarch is a caterpillar for only about 10 days to two weeks.
Those who miss out on getting a plant in the ground in the next few days can console themselves with a mail-order seed purchase, to plant for next spring’s northward migration.
WHERE TO GET NATIVE MILKWEED
Native American Seed in Junction sells the seeds of North Texas milkweeds, plus other species.
Weston Gardens in Fort Worth
They will have native milkweed seeds in the coming weeks. Call ahead.
• Native Plant Society of Texas participates in a national Monarch Watch program, planting native milkweeds and also selling them. For details on their fall sale, see their website.
• Randy Johnson propagates native milkweeds. For information on their availability for purchase, contact email@example.com.
• Texas Discovery Gardens at Fair Park mounts a spring plant sale, usually in April, that often offers native, pesticide-free milkweeds.
• Rohde’s Nursery and Nature Store, Dallas
They have some plants in stock but call ahead to ensure availability.
• Weston Gardens in Fort Worth
They will have native milkweed plants in the coming weeks. Call ahead.
• Redenta’s in Arlington and Dallas
They carry some native milkweed plants as they become available. Call ahead.
• Stuart’s Nursery, Weatherford
They do not have native milkweed now but typically carry it in spring and summer. Call ahead.
• Monarch Watch, a national organization based at the University of Kansas, sells native milkweed plants by mail order and contracts with native plant nurseries. For details, visit monarchwatch.org.
WHEN TO PLANT
Seeds are planted in the fall. Plants may be planted whenever available, usually in spring.
Create a Monach Waystation and get certified by MonarchWatch.org.
MONARCHS IN THE NEWS