Monarch Milkweed Initiative

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The Monarch-Milkweed Initiative launched at St. Marks NWR in the spring of 2015, in response to the federal initiative to “Save the Monarch!”. The main goal of the program at St. Marks is to propagate local ecotypes of native milkweed species to support the monarch butterfly population.

Monarch butterflies are an imperiled species - some estimates say as much as 98% of their population has disappeared in 20 years. Though there are many reasons for the decline, it is largely due to a lack of milkweed, the host plant for the butterfly. Monarchs need the plant to lay their eggs on, as it is the only thing their caterpillars can eat. The Monarch-Milkweed Initiative aims to propagate native species of milkweed important to the butterflies from all around Florida.

The Refuge nursery is located behind the Work Center at 7300 Coastal Highway, Crawfordville, FL, 32327. There we have a thriving nursery complete with a greenhouse, numerous keyhole beds, and a potting bench. St. Marks NWR has pioneered the effort to restore native milkweed in Florida under Ranger Scott Davis. In 2015, we propagated over 11,000 milkweed, with a goal of doubling that amount for 2016. Most of the milkweed propagated is grown to be distributed to various organizations and institutions, allocated for conservation, education, and outreach, and utilized by program partners. The keyhole beds are designated to serve as a permanent seed source for the Refuge for years to come.

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The nursery is primarily managed by volunteers, and we host work days year round for those interested in helping. Over the summer months, our workdays predominantly focus on upgrading and maintaining infrastructure, and various field surveys in order to find new populations, monitor known populations, and take important data on growing conditions such as soil composition and pH. In the Winter/Spring, much of our work entails transplanting seedlings into larger pots and sowing new seeds for the Summer.

It has been said that restoring monarch habitat is the largest restoration project attempted in history. Without support from the Friends group, this project could not be possible. To learn more or get involved, visit our Facebook Page: Monarch-Milkweed Initiative at St. Marks NWR. Also, feel free to send us an e-mail.

note: Wildlife biologists with the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, with the help of citizen scientists and volunteers, spend many early days at the Refuge throughout October (coinciding approximately with the annual Monarch Festival), catching and tagging monarchs. The monarch in the photo above has been tagged to help track its migratory progress. Read more about monarch tagging.