An area of Panola Mountain State Park is the latest site to be repopulated with native wildflowers to attract Monarch butterflies, thanks to the State Botanical Garden at the University of Georgia.

Working with faculty and staff at the garden’s Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Studies, graduate student and researcher Lauren Muller recently installed almost 200 Butterfly weed plants (Asclepias tuberosa) throughout the “Power of Flight” grassland area of the park, near Stockbridge, Ga.

Butterfly weed, a type of milkweed and a flower native to the Georgia Piedmont, attracts important pollinator species. More specifically, it is recognized as a plant that supports and creates a habitat for monarchs, a species that has been on the decline in recent years.

Muller, who studies horticulture in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, worked on this project for nearly a year.

“Milkweed can grow from seed to flower easily within a year’s time,” Muller said. “And once the plants are well-established, they are long-lived and resilient in their landscape.”

Muller received the initial seed from Henning von Schmeling, senior director of operations at the Chattahoochee Nature Center, a member of the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance, which is housed at the State Botanical Garden in Athens. Schmeling currently has 18 native Georgia species of milkweed in cultivation and 12 in mass production.

“A few years ago, I noticed that there were very few species of milkweed seed available in Georgia, and I wanted to make a difference,” Schmeling said. “Monarchs won’t lay their eggs on anything other than milkweed. As its population declines, the migratory habits of monarch butterflies change.”

Pollinators are critical to the production of flowering crops like apples, squash and almonds. Without the native pollinators, like Monarch butterflies, we cannot produce these plants or their seeds.

Muller used the Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Studies at the State Botanical Garden to stratify, germinate and grow the plants. She hopes her protocol, which includes using transplants instead of directly planting seeds into the ground, will make it easier for land managers to create milkweed plots on a larger scale.

“Panola Mountain State Park was ideal for this project,” Muller said. “The grassland area has been managed properly to control exotic invasive plants, and there’s a possibility this area could even be used as an education plot in the future.”

She will continue to monitor the Butterfly weed throughout the growing season, taking care to measure its growth and study how it’s competing with invasive grasses around it.

Writer: Lee Redding