Nov 5

Native Milkweed for Monarch Conservation

Diane Jones, owner of Draggin’ Wing High Desert Nursery

and Jeanne Dodds, ESC Creative Engagement Director

Growing up in Idaho, I recall late afternoons watching Monarch butterflies winging through the garden, their orange patterning matching the striking summer light as they flew through the yard. It was thrilling and awe inspiring to observe a tiny part of their long journey. I knew that Monarchs were the state insect of Idaho and connected with these beautiful butterflies as a symbol of home. Over the years, visits by Monarchs grew fewer and fewer until, in past seasons, people in Idaho and other Western states describe whole summers passing by without seeing a single Monarch. 

Swallowtail butterflies on A.speciosa Image credit Jeanne Dodds

We know that Western Monarchs are in a state of crisis. Recent studies including those reflected in Xerces Society Western Monarch Call to Action indicate that since the 1980’s, Western Monarch populations have declined precipitously, falling by over 99%. Among the factors contributing to Monarch declines are the loss of milkweed habitat and the planting of non-native, tropical milkweed.  Monarchs are an iconic species and a beneficial pollinator; urgent actions are required to ensure the survival of this species.

Monarch egg milkweed leaf Draggin Wing High Desert Nursery Image credit Jeanne Dodds

The Endangered Species Coalition’s Pollinator Protectors project emphasizes the use of native milkweed and native nectaring plants for planting projects across the United States. We focus on partnering with local native plant nurseries to source plant materials providing the greatest benefit to Monarchs and other pollinators. One native plant nursery, Draggin’ Wing High Desert Nursery in Boise Idaho, has partnered with ESC since 2016 to provide plant material for habitat restoration at water catchment sites managed by the Ada County Highway District. I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Diane Jones, owner of Draggin’ Wing High Desert Nursery to explore the significance of native plants for Monarch conservation.

Jeanne Dodds Why is propagating and planting native plants important?

Diane Jones One important reason is to help stop the decline of insect populations by creating habitat that supports the native insects which have co-evolved with these plants over millennia. Beyond that, I think that working with native plants can be an educational experience that heightens our appreciation for the natural landscape of our region. When people understand and appreciate the environment they are more likely to protect it.

Beetle at nursery Image Credit Jeanne Dodds

JD How does the process of wild milkweed seed collection and propagation benefit Monarch butterflies and other species? 

DJ Monarch butterflies co-evolved with Milkweed to the point that their caterpillars are entirely dependent on the leaves of Milkweed plants for food as they grow. Monarchs lay their eggs only on Milkweeds. But in addition, the flowers of Milkweed plants provide nectar and pollen for a wide variety of bees, butterflies and other insects, so their ecological benefits go well beyond supporting Monarchs.

Asclepias seeds image credit Diane Jones

JD How does your nursery raise the profile of native plants and encourage people to grow native species for pollinator conservation? 

DJ We plant out all of our native species in display gardens so that people can see for themselves what these plants look like and how they can function in a home landscape. Our hope is that these gardens can serve as an inspiration for folks to re-imagine what a home garden can be. As our gardens have matured over the years they have become a haven for a wide variety of pollinators and visitors can see this. We also offer encouragement and advice based on our years of experience working with native plants. 

Asclepias fascicularis Image credit Diane Jones

JD Do you have any observations to share regarding the presence or absence of Monarchs in Idaho?

DJ It has been very discouraging lately, as Monarch sightings in our area are few and far between. At the same time, more and more people are planting Milkweeds, so there is some hope that if Monarchs start to return, they will be able to find places to lay their eggs. 


To learn more about Draggin’ Wing High Desert Nursery, including native plants and resources for pollinator conservation, visit https://waterthriftyplants.com/

Interested in becoming a participating planting site for the Endangered Species Coalition’s Pollinator Protectors Project? Contact Jeanne Dodds, ESC Creative Engagement Director jdodds@endangered.org

Help ESC plant native milkweed and native nectaring plants for Monarch butterflies and other pollinators by making a donation.

2 Comments on Native Milkweed for Monarch Conservation

  1. LisAnne Marie Melber says:

    Living most of my life going to the Monarch Grove in Pismo Beach, Cali; this is near to my heart for 50 years!!!

  2. Johnnie Allen says:

    Here in the Midwest there is a native milkweed that grows as a vine and is often seen in fences. Are you going to plant some of these? Once established they have no problem finding spaces to grow. Often considered a weed by farmers they would be perfect for urban gardens.

    Johnnie Allen

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *