Nacogdoches is one of dozens of Texas cities that have planted pollinator gardens, providing way stations for the long monarch migration
Rebeca Quiñonez-Piñón of the National Wildlife Federation (above) and artist Irving Cano stand before Cano’s mural “Destino Monarca” in McAllen, Texas. In Nacogdoches, Texas, new pollinator gardens at sites including the historic railroad depot (directly below) showcase native plants such as Topeka purple coneflower (Echinacea atrorubens) and milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa, second below, with a gray hairstreak perched atop).
THE PINEYWOODS OF EAST TEXAS—a sprawling thicket of pine, hardwood and brush—is part of a vital migration flyway for the monarch butterfly. Linking habitat in Canada and Mexico, the region illustrates the interdependence of diverse ecosystems in species survival and how humans impact those same ecosystems.
Take the people of Nacogdoches. Billed as the “Garden Capital of Texas,” the town of 35,000 has long promoted beautification efforts, including projects with the local Stephen F. Austin (SFA) Gardens. Nacogdoches recently went a step further, joining more than 600 cities nationwide in taking the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayors’ Monarch Pledge. By signing on, leaders commit to expanding monarch habitat and educating residents about pollinators.
In making their improbable journey, monarchs need all the help they can get. East of the Rocky Mountains, the butterflies head south at the end of summer and, after overwintering in central Mexico from late October to March, begin their long return north. Milkweed, essential for monarchs, and other nectar-producing plants serve as way stations, providing nutrients and shelter en route.
Much of the monarch’s decline in recent decades can be linked to the disappearance of these way stations, often due to development. By designing and planting a series of pollinator-friendly gardens beginning in 2019, Nacogdoches became a champion of monarchs and other pollinators, sending a message of hope for many migrating species.
That positivity extends to the human population. “The four monarch gardens in Nacogdoches provided opportunities for a diverse group of people to learn about and plant these pockets of conservation,” says Dawn Stover, representative for SFA Gardens at the time of installation. “We had generations of gardeners making these projects come to life.”
Selecting native flora not only helps pollinators. It also educates home gardeners who might have overlooked certain plant species. “As people watch early-blooming penstemons give way to summer wild bergamot and giant cornflower, then transition to fall with goldenrod and asters, they become enchanted with the living world,” says Kim Conrow, past president of the Native Plant Society of Texas.
The Nacogdoches gardens—each registered as a Certified Wildlife Habitat®—were the result of an effort between the city’s Parks & Recreation Department, NWF’s Monarch Conservation Urban Outreach and Monarch Stewards programs, SFA Gardens and the Native Plant Society of Texas, with a donation by the James A. “Buddy” Davidson Charitable Foundation. “[These gardens] are a way for us to celebrate the great partnership and collaboration with the communities to support monarch migration,” says Rebeca Quiñonez-Piñón, climate-resilient habitats senior manager and monarch recovery strategist for NWF.
Nacogdoches is among dozens of Texas cities that have taken the NWF pledge—currently the second most of any state. Others include the Lower Rio Grande Valley city of McAllen, where the renowned Zapotec artist Irving Cano’s mural “Destino Monarca” was installed in 2022.
Both the mural and the gardens are “conduits helping us to raise awareness about the situation of the monarch butterfly but at the same time increase native habitat in urban areas while we educate others,” Quiñonez-Piñón says. “We can see the demonstration gardens as creating art, too.”
Emily Cook is a freelance writer based in Northern Virginia.
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