Pollinating the Monarch Highway

A 1,500 mile stretch of I-35 running through Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas was nicknamed the Monarch Highway. On May 26, officials from the six states agreed to “a cooperative and coordinated effort to establish best practices and promote public awareness of the monarch butterfly and other pollinator conservation.”

The joint effort between various agencies, including the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, was in response to a two year-old federal push toward increasing pollinators. In June of 2014, the federal government set out to restore 7 million acres of land in an effort to stem what has been a steady loss of pollinator insects. Since the 1990s pollinator populations have declined by over half.

What does this mean for the farming communities surrounding the stretch of road and beyond? Better crop pollination. Pollinator plants and grasses planted along the roadway will provide monarch butterflies, bees and other pollinators with the food they need to breed, travel and move pollen from plant to plant during critical post-bloom periods.

Monarch butterflies are not the only pollinators to benefit from the reclaimed land along the interstate. The presence of monarch butterflies indirectly helps increase the populations of more effective crop pollinators, like bees.

Although monarchs contribute to pollinating a variety of nut crops, most crops along I-35 are pollinated by bees. Monarchs pollinate wildflowers. In turn, these wildflowers support the bees that pollinate most of the crops surrounding the I-35 corridor.