Making a Home in Florida: Monarchs, the Regal Pollinators
Celebrate National Pollinator Week June 15-19
By M.J. Williams, PhD
agronomist/plant material specialist
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Gainesville, Fla., June 15, 2015 – Many people have heard about the amazing migration of North American monarch butterflies to Mexico. But did you know Florida has a breeding population that doesn’t migrate?
A warm climate and continuous growing season keep the species hanging around throughout the year in southern Florida. And monarchs migrating from Canada and the northeast, like many tourists, come and stay, bolstering the population. Although the north and central Florida cold winter temperatures can kill them, monarchs from south Florida and those migrating from Mexico repopulate the area.
But some of the north Florida population join the eastern US migratory population that fly over the Gulf of Mexico. Watch them muster in October at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, one of the top five viewing sites for Monarch migration in the United States.
Monarchs as pollinators play an important role in maintaining biological diversity. Habitat loss, disease, parasites and environmental contaminants have all contributed to the decline of many pollinators.
Monarch larvae feed almost exclusively on milkweed plants. About 20 or so milkweed species can be found in Florida. All are native except tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica. The tropical milkweed is commonly found at retail nurseries and big box stores in the state. It is not the best food plant for monarch larvae, is somewhat invasive and should not be planted.
Pollinator plantings for the monarch should include both milkweed plants for the larvae to feed on and a wide range of other types of nectar plants for the adults. Unfortunately, most of the native milkweed species are not commercially available. The following species of native Florida milkweed are currently listed as available on the Association of Florida Native Nurseries website as plants, or you might contact your local native plant society to see if local seed of other species is available.
These links take you to the University of South Florida Plant Atlas website that shows pictures of the plants and the range of the species in the state.
Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), likes wet sites, central Florida south. Seed available online, but not Florida ecotypes.
Aquatic or Swamp milkweed (Asclepias perennis), likes wet sites, central Florida north.
Fewflower milkweed (Asclepias lanceolata), likes wet sites, throughout Florida.
Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), likes middle-of-the-road to dry sites, throughout Florida. Both Florida ecotype and other sources are available as seed online.
Learn more about how you can help pollinators and find resources on USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service website. For technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or your local USDA service center.