Drivers on Interstate Highway 35 in Texas may soon be sharing their rest area with monarch butterflies.
The Native Plant Society of Texas is making plans to design and install Monarch Waystations featuring native pollinator plants at Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) highway rest stops in Hill County and Bell County. As described by Monarch Watch, Monarch Waystations are patches of habitat that provide resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration.
The project and associated federal funding is the result of a cooperative agreement between the Society and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), in cooperation with TxDOT. The gardens will be located at Safety Rest Areas on Interstate 35 and will include educational signage describing the monarch life cycle and migration pattern, and the relationship between the monarch and native plants.
“We believe this cooperative agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Native Plant Society of Texas, with support from the Texas Department of Transportation, is the start to a long term partnership that will greatly benefit the Monarch butterfly, while adding beauty and interest along major roadways in the great state of Texas,” said Benjamin Tuggle, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Regional Director. “It is also another demonstration of how successful we can be working collaboratively with federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, and academic programs to support efforts to protect the monarch migration across the lower 48 United States.”
Kay Jenkins, who will lead the project for the Society, said the gardens will be planted with native Texas milkweed and with native plants that are used as nectar sources by the migrating butterflies. Female monarchs only lay their eggs on milkweeds and a few other plants in the same plant family.
Most of the monarch butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains migrate south to Mexico each winter and return north in the spring, traveling through Texas along a corridor that roughly matches the path of Interstate Highway 35.
Scientists and the public have become alarmed by the decreasing numbers of monarch butterflies in recent years. The decline is attributed to a number of factors. According to Dr. Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch, in the United States 6,000 acres are converted to development each day, eliminating milkweeds and nectar sources for monarchs. Chemically intensive agriculture that utilizes insecticides and herbicides also impacts monarchs and their milkweed host plants. Land management practices, such as frequent mowing, that favor grasses rather than flowering plants are also a factor.
Monarch Waystations can increase awareness of monarchs and help the public learn to identify and conserve the native plants that they depend on for survival. These gardens also provide high quality monarch habitat along the migratory route and may inspire others to create Monarch Waystations too!
Under the terms of the cooperative agreement with the USFWS, the Native Plant Society of Texas will design and build the gardens and maintain them for a period of five years. The gardens already have some infrastructure built by TxDOT, including an irrigation system.