The Monarch-milkweed initiative at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is a program that sprang up in response to the federal initiative to “Save the Monarch!.” Monarchs are incredible creatures for many reasons. They make the longest migration of any species (3,000+ miles!) from as far as southern Canada to southern Mexico. They are important pollinator species and their decline is indicative of a problem spanning their entire range. Some estimates range from 90-99% decline since 1990. In order to bring back healthy numbers of monarchs, we need to increase numbers of their host plants, the milkweeds. Female monarchs only lay eggs on milkweeds as it is the only source of food for caterpillars.
Refuge Ranger Scott Davis has developed a long term plan to support the monarch butterfly in the Big Bend of Florida by sourcing local ecotypes of milkweed species to provide an ongoing viable seed source for the refuge, as well as distributing as many seedlings as possible to the conservation lands. More milkweeds = more monarchs! The nursery at the refuge is complete with a green house, numerous raised garden beds, dirt corrals, tables and shelves for holding flats, and very soon infrastructure for shade cloth and an irrigation system will be in place. Currently, we have numerous beds built and planted, each representing a separate species native to our region: butterfly weed (asclepias tuberosa), sandhill milkweed (asclepias humistrata), whorled milkweed (asclepias verticillata), velvetleaf milkweed (asclepias tomentosa), aquatic milkweed (asclepias perennis), swamp milkweed (asclepias incarnata), few flower milkweed (asclepias lanceolata), clasping milkweed (asclepias amplexicaulis), and the milkvine (gonolobus spp.). We also have a growing number of seedlings for distribution, largely butterfly weed (asclepias tuberosa) and swamp milkweed (asclepias incarnata). In 2015 we propagated near 11,000 milkweeds, and this year we have the goal of doubling that number.
If you have questions about monarchs, milkweeds, the project, the refuge, or want to be involved, message us or write us an email at email@example.com
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The refuge is actively involved in the recovery of the red-cockaded woodpecker. The Service’s current Red-cockaded Woodpecker Recovery Plan (2003) has a panhandle population goal of 1,000 potential breeding groups, with a refuge goal of 71 active clusters. Active refuge management of the red-cockaded woodpecker population and habitat since 1980 has not only prevented extirpation, but also fostered population growth.