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Milkweeds For Monarchs

Updated: Feb 28

A few weeks ago, we shared the news that Borderlands Restoration Network (BRN) was a recipient of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) Monarch Butterfly and Pollinators Conservation Fund for the project Expanding Seed Sources and Creating Pollinator Corridors in the Madrean Archipelago. The project will improve the habitat for the endangered monarch butterfly along its migratory route through the Arizona/Sonora borderlands.


Monarch butterfly on a milkweed branch.
Monarch butterfly on a milkweed branch.

This two-year project establishes a one-acre milkweed seed amplification plot at the Borderlands Restoration Farm, restores milkweed and pollinator nectar species at the Borderlands Wildlife Preserve (BWP), and engages the community in milkweed for monarch butterfly restoration through free workshops, hikes, and volunteer opportunities.


BRN’s farm plot where the project will establish native milkweed species for future seed collection.
BRN’s farm plot where the project will establish native milkweed species for future seed collection.

This project continues our efforts of local ecotypic native seed collection to increase seed at our 60-acre farm in Patagonia, Arizona. We do this through priority milkweed and nectar forb species lists for wild seed collection in coordination with federal partners and private landowners. The collected seed is cleaned in our seed barn and curated in our database, where we record propagation information and decide whether to grow it out in containers at our nursery to be later transplanted or directly sown into our fields on the farm. The one-acre farm plot we plan to establish will have eight or more native milkweed species (Asclepias angustifolia, A. asperula, A. linaria, A. subverticillata, A. involucrata, A. tuberosa, A. oenotheroides, A. speciosa, A. elata, A. nummularia, and Funastrum cynanchoides), and will regenerate seed for years to come without having to collect so much from wild sources. In future years, we'll collect small amounts of seed from the wild to continue amplification in our farmed plots to ensure wild genetic diversity, and we will be able to provide this seed for garden and restoration use.


Pearl crescent butterfly uses nectar from Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly milkweed) in the Canelo Cienega.
Pearl crescent butterfly uses nectar from Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly milkweed) in the Canelo Cienega.

In deciding our seed collection lists, having a wide array of native host and nectar species for monarch butterflies is essential. Milkweed plants (Genus Asclepias & Funastrum) are host plants for monarchs, meaning they are caterpillar food. The caterpillar larvae eat mostly the leaves and stems of milkweed plants, filled with toxic latex sap containing cardiac glycosides, which protect the caterpillar by making them unsavory to birds and other predators. However, monarch butterflies rely not only on milkweeds but also on various native flowering species that provide nectar to sustain them once they are in adult flight form. These include late summer and fall blooming species like Ericameria and numerous other asters. Southern Arizona hosts dozens of nectar species perfect for monarch butterflies on their migration.


Dr. Randy Moore will be leading our monitoring efforts and deciding the ideal areas to plant milkweeds in the wildlands of the BWP. Once the 1,000 plugs are planted in the preserve for ecological restoration, they will be monitored by Randy and our interns for survival and the presence of monarch butterfly larvae and adults. We are so lucky to be working with Randy, who has years of experience in scientific study and monitoring, and we are looking forward to working with him more during the two years of this project.


Milkweeds grow in containers at Borderlands Nursery & Seed in Patagonia.
Milkweeds grow in containers at Borderlands Nursery & Seed in Patagonia.

Although this project targets and supports the restoration of native plants for monarch butterflies, each native plant species supports many other native pollinator and animal species, including birds, moths, other butterfly species, bees, aphids, and more. We love the opportunity to work with charismatic species in need of restoration as it elevates restoration for the region and is a great way to engage the public.


Through this project, we will involve the community by providing free workshops and hikes. Engaging our communities is critical in getting the word out and educating the public. We need many individuals and entities to restore our habitats and make a difference for our native flora and fauna. We appreciate the strong community of southeastern Arizona that helps tremendously in fulfilling our mission as we jointly learn how to make a difference in our environment. Again, thank you to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for awarding us this opportunity; we will keep you updated as the project progresses.


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