It may surprise many people in Las Vegas, but the monarch butterfly does indeed inhabit
Southern Nevada during migration.
During the summer of 2015, Friends of Red Rock Canyon decided to help the monarch butterfly
by applying for a grant through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). After eight very busy weeks, Friends submitted an application to NFWF with the official title of “The Southern Nevada Milkweed Mapping, Seed Production and Distribution Project.”
The goals of the grant included mapping milkweed plant locations, collecting milkweed seeds and planting milkweed plants.
How do milkweed plants help the monarch butterfly?
Monarch butterflies will only lay eggs on milkweed plants as the plant is the only food source
for monarch caterpillars. The milkweed plant provides all the nourishment the caterpillar needs
to transform into the adult butterfly. Unfortunately, milkweed plants have been disappearing throughout their habitat.
Habitat loss due to land development and the widespread spraying of weed killer on the fields where they grow.
NFWF awarded Friends the $135,346 grant in September 2015. Now was the time to get busy,
recruit volunteers and get this project off the ground. Friends contracted with Doyle Wayman
as the project manager.
The project name was shortened to the Southern Nevada Milkweed Project, or SNMP.
The SNMP team organized volunteers into several groups including those who mapped milkweed plants in the field, those who collected and cleaned seeds, greenhouse volunteers who propagated milkweed plants and data entry volunteers.
Click here for a video on the project hosted by Doyle Wayman.
After volunteer training was completed, three Field Teams traveled throughout Southern Nevada
and located eight native plant species, including Showy, Desert, Spider, Horsetail, Narrowleaf, Davis, Rush, and Climbing. The Field Teams went out twice a week, mapping and collecting data at each plant location.
The team collected and cleaned seeds from plants within Warm Springs, Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, Sandy Valley, Cottonwood Valley, Clark County Wetlands Park, Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, Lovell and Trout Canyons, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and the Bird Spring Range.
From the beginning of the project through the end of October 2016, the SNMP team: mapping and seed collection.
- Conducted 43 field team sessions including mapping and seed collection
- Had 24 greenhouse sessions with 22,500 seeds planted and 12,000 plants grown.
- Coordinated six sessions in the field with more than 6,000 milkweeds planted thanks
to almost 150 volunteers.
Unfortunately, the plants had very high mortality rates. The milkweed seeds were originally grown in material made with earthworm casings, Q-Plugs, which were a big attraction for
rodents and birds. Attracted by the earthworm odor, they dug out and ate the plug and sometimes even the entire plant.
The larger plants grown in potting soil did better, although that process took additional time and labor to complete.
Greenhouse propagation continued during late winter of 2016 and early 2017 and new out-plantings occurred during March and April 2017. The greenhouse sessions continued twice a week with activities such as collecting seeds from the plants in the nursery and surrounding area and cleaning milkweed seeds.
The plants that were propagated up to this point were out-planted, with the remaining 3,500 plants in the greenhouse re-potted and moved to the outside of the greenhouse in semi-shade. These plants continued to grow until they were used in out-plantings in the fall of 2017.
During the course of the two-year project, it was discovered that there was a lot of interest in
creating pollinator gardens throughout Southern Nevada.
The out-plantings that took place in 2017 included native pollinator plants in addition to milkweed
plants. Many connections and interest in pollinator gardens were made between the SNMP Team
and Master Gardeners, Green Our Planet, Faith Lutheran Middle and High School, Red Rock
Audubon Society, Great Basin Water Company, and the Bureau of Land Management’s Seeds of
Glenda Bona was named as SNMP Program Manager in July 2017; she and the team continued
to grow milkweed plants. Out-planting sessions of both plants and seed were conducted from September through October.
The fifth and final out-planting took place at the Clark County Cooperative Extension Botanical Gardens with the Master Gardeners planting 100 pollinator plants, including milkweed. The Botanical Gardens is experimenting with growing a wide variety of milkweed and other pollinator attractors. The “Milkweed Trials” feature small groupings of milkweed planted throughout the 3.5 acre Botanical Gardens.
Overall, SNMP had a low success rate with milkweed planted in non-irrigated and
wildlife populated areas. The SNMP Team estimated that 95 percent of the plants
died either from lack of water or uncontrolled wildlife, particularly rabbits and wild
burros. However, out-plantings in areas that could be more easily monitored and had
a source of water had a much higher rate of survival.
Despite the challenges and setbacks, there were many positive outcomes from the
SNMP. The SNMP Team located and mapped a large number of milkweed plants and
collected well over a million seeds. A good replacement to Q-plugs for growing milk-
weed plants was found, the team collaborated with several partners and others in the
community to make this project a success, and seeds and plants were given to those
who will improve monarch butterfly habitats in Southern Nevada.
To obtain a copy of the final grant report, please contact Kristi Weeks, Executive
Director of Friends of Red Rock Canyon at 702-515-5366