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Developing Monarch Habitat in the South Texas Plains

Photo of an Indian blanket plant in full bloom of yellow and red flowers with a shortspike windmillgrass plant in front covered in seedheads.Texas is situated at the core of the migratory flyway for the Eastern monarch population.  It plays a vital role in monarch conservation due to its importance for both spring breeding as monarchs return to the United States and providing fall nectar sources that fuel the butterfly’s magnificent migration to Mexico.

Land management plans in south Texas have not traditionally targeted monarchs and/or native pollinator communities.  While wildlife management practices for other species indirectly benefit native pollinators, they often do not provide the full spectrum of needs to support the diversity of native pollinator species. Additionally, commercial seed mixes often originating from more northern areas often lack the ability to provide a succession of blooms from early spring, through summer, and into the fall that are critical food sources for pollinators.  

The USDA-NRCS “Kika” de la Garza Plant Materials Center (PMC) in Kingsville, Texas and its partner, the South Texas Natives (STN) have tested and released to commercial growers 28 new native grasses and wildflowers for south Texas since 2001.  These new plant selections have been part of an extensive testing and evaluation program to develop regionally adapted seed mixes for south Texas, including to provide better options to address monarch butterfly and native pollinator conservation.   

In August 2017, a 65 acre monarch habitat restoration planting was made in Cameron County at the Texas Parks and Wildlife, Las Palomas Wildlife Management area. The seed mix used in this project consisted of a grass mixture, a forb mixture and a milkweed mixture.  The grass mixture included 14 South Texas ecotype releases and 3 potentially new grass releases, silver bluestem, plains lovegrass and purple three-awn.  Four milkweed species, zizotes, antelope horn, green antelope horn, and slim milkweed were also planted.  And 21 different forbs were planted, which included many of the South Texas ecotype releases, and promising ecotypes of basketflower, tropical sage, Indian blanket and skeleton-leaf goldeneye which are currently under evaluation, as well as other commercially available pollinator friendly species.  Plant establishment in 2018 and spring blooms were very impressive despite unusually low rainfall following planting.  

The success of this monarch planting, as well as other conservation plantings in South Texas, are made possible through the cooperative effort and commitment of the PMC and STN to develop native ecotypes adapted to the unique climate and soils of South Texas.  The PMC and STN will monitor this site and other pollinator plantings to refine NRCS recommendations for pollinator seed mixes in the South Texas Plains.

See Also

Insect & Pollinator Habitat and Monarch Conservation Efforts for publications and technical resources relating to pollinator habitat. 

Landscape photo of the revegetation site with several different flower species in bloom and mesquite trees in the background.
La Palomas site after successful establishment of pollinator plants.
 
Photo of an Indian blanket plant in full bloom of yellow and red flowers with a shortspike windmillgrass plant in front covered in seedheads.
Indian blanket is a generalist pollinator plant and shortspike windmillgrass is a soil stabilizing grass species.