To offset the loss and degradation of monarch breeding habitat, the North American Monarch Conservation Plan recommends planting regionally appropriate native milkweed species. However, a scarcity of milkweed seed in many regions of the United States has limited opportunities to include the plants in habitat restoration efforts. To address this seed shortage, the Xerces Society launched Project Milkweed, in collaboration with the native seed industry, the USDA-NRCS Plant Materials Program, and community partners, to produce new sources of milkweed seed in California, the Great Basin, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Florida. In addition to increasing seed availability, Xerces is raising awareness about the wildlife value of milkweeds, expanding markets for seed, and encouraging the inclusion of milkweeds in nationwide pollinator conservation efforts.
Xerces developed a comprehensive document, Milkweeds: A Conservation Practitioner's Guide, that features information on milkweed ecology; the plants’ value to monarchs, pollinators, and other beneficial insects; guidelines for milkweed propagation, establishment, and seed production; and recommendations of which milkweeds are appropriate for planting on a regional basis. This guide is available to native seed producers, monarch conservationists, natural resource agencies, and organizations involved in habitat conservation and ecological restoration.
Xerces has worked with and continues to work with seed producers in the Great Basin (Gunnell Farms), southeastern U.S. (Ernst Conservation Seeds), Arizona (Painted Lady Vineyard), Texas (Native American Seed), and California (Hedgerow Farms). They consult with each of these producers to produce and market native milkweed seeds and develop best management practices to address disease and pest outbreaks.
In the spring of 2014, Xerces launched the Milkweed Seed Finder, a national web-based directory of nearly 100 known milkweed seed vendors (www.xerces.org/milkweed-seed-finder). This directory is a valuable resource for connecting interested customers, including monarch enthusiasts, private landowners, restoration practitioners, and natural resource agencies, with regionally appropriate seed sources.
During the fall and winter of 2014, Xerces incorporated 64 pounds of milkweed seed, of seven regionally source-identified species, into restoration and re-vegetation projects conducted on public and private lands. All seed was planted in the state or broader region to which it is source-identified, giving monarchs across the region a native, local source of milkweed to feed and breed on.