Flight of the monarch: Officials discuss importance of waystations during migration

A lone monarch butterfly is seen on a milkweed plant at a Weatherford resident’s waystation just before the annual migration to Mexico. 

Every fall, millions of monarch butterflies make their way from the U.S. down to central Mexico, stopping along at waystations to get the necessary resources to sustain their migration.

“Monarch Waystations are places that provide resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration,” according to the Monarch Watch organization. “Without milkweeds throughout their spring and summer breeding areas in North America, monarchs would not be able to produce the successive generations that culminate in the migration each fall. Similarly, without nectar from flowers these fall migratory monarch butterflies would be unable to make their long journey to overwintering grounds in Mexico. The need for host plants for larvae and energy sources for adults applies to all monarch and butterfly populations around the world.”

Parker County and Tarrant County Master Gardener Gay Larson said the milkweed is the host plant for monarchs.

“Hummingbirds like them too, but it’s not a host plant for the hummingbird, just for the monarch. So the idea was to educate people and having people plant more milkweed and that way we would have more monarchs, and it has worked,” Larson said. “Texas is right in the middle, right where they migrate through. I know there was a push by all the mayors in all the cities in Texas to encourage people to make their property a waystation for the monarch butterfly. They usually come through this area about this time of year, but I haven’t seen so many this year so far.”

According to Monarch Watch, waystations can be created in home gardens, at schools, businesses, parks, zoos, nature centers and along roadsides.

Monarchs usually enter the Texas portion of their migration the last days of September and by the third week of October, most have passed through into Mexico, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife.

“Monarch migration has been going on way before Parker County was settled and will continue well into the future. As more and more land is being developed and habitat is changed these Monarch Waystations become increasingly important,” Parker County Extension Agent Jay Kingston said. “I am proud that our Parker County Master Gardeners have established at least seven different Monarch Waystations at the gardens we take care of and there are several master gardeners that have established them in their personal gardens. These waystations provide a necessary resource for monarchs to complete their journey to Mexico and we are proud to be a part of that process.”

In Parker County there are 11 designated Monarch Waystations in Weatherford, four in Aledo and one in Annetta, according to the Monarch Waystation Registry. Mineral Wells has one waystation.

Of the Parker County Master Gardeners 10 projects, Larson said about six of them have waystations.

“The demo gardens, which are right there by the extension office and it is a waystation, Annetta City Hall is a waystation, Azle Central Park, Chandor Gardens and I think the [Weatherford] Public Library,” Larson said. “It’s just a good way to educate people and we’ll give classes where somebody will come and talk about monarch butterflies. It’s nice to know that we’re taking care of what God gave us to enjoy.”

One of the waystations created and maintained by the master gardeners is in Annetta at the town’s city hall. Annetta Mayor Bruce Pinckard issued a proclamation, which was unanimously approved by the city council, to raise awareness of Monarch butterfly conservation efforts and habitat creation and preservation for the fourth year in a row on Sept. 17. Pinckard said the first Town of Annetta Mayor’s Monarch Pledge was signed on Aug. 19, 2016.

“We absolutely love the natural and calming environment that exists in front of city hall due to the hard work of the Parker County Master Gardeners. There is a sign in front of the building that illustrates what types of plants are used to attract these beautiful creatures so that citizens can obtain these same types of landscape materials for their own yards and gardens,” Pinckard said. “Cities, towns and counties have a critical role to play to help save the monarch butterfly. Monarch Waystations provide milkweed, nectar plants and shelter for monarchs throughout their annual cycle of reproduction and migration. The Town of Annetta, in conjunction with the Parker County Master Gardeners Association, have played a leadership role by creating a waystation and converting an abandoned lot to monarch habitat.”

Monarch Watch has published a list of guidelines to follow when creating a waystation, which includes it being a suitable size and having sun exposure, shelter, a specific number of milkweeds and nectar plants.

Larson said there’s a form that needs to be filled out along with a small payment for a certificate to officially become a waystation.

“You can buy a little plaque that you can put at your project saying it is a waystation,” Larson said. “That goes to help keeps this program going.”

For more information visit pcmg-texas.org

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