Nectar Connectors campaign

This year's Nectar Connectors campaign has come to a close. We hope that you have enjoyed getting to know the changes on your nectar plants throughout the seasons this year!
Your observations of where and when flowers are available for monarchs and other pollinators will help to shine a light on any potential mismatches that are occurring between pollinators and the plants on which they depend.

Some good news recently for monarchs - after an all-time low of less than 2,000 butterflies last year at the California overwintering sites of Western monarch butterflies, there is some hope from early counts this year. Thousands are already showing up at some sites, according to a blog post from Western Monarch Count.

We hope that you will join us again next year for the Nectar Connectors campaign! Your reports on the same plants over multiple years are really valuable to help us understand how nectar plants are responding to changes in climate.
What you are reporting on nectar plants
This year, 309 observers reported on Nectar Connectors species, up from 255 last year. These observers submitted data at 199 sites. The most observed species across the country were common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), eastern purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), and eastern baccharis (Baccharis halimifolia).

We have 45 Local Phenology Programs tracking Nectar Connectors species this year. The 10 LPPs submitting the most records this year are below. We also had 125 individual observers. Thanks to you all for your efforts - every record that you submit is valuable!
The map below indicates the sites where you reported on Nectar Connectors species this year. The colors of the dots indicate when the average first date of open flowers was reported at that site, with earlier dates in yellow and later dates in green. The shape of the dots represents the different genera of nectar plants.
Generally, your reports of first flowers in the Southeast this year were early or late in the year, corresponding with the time when monarchs are migrating through the region. In the Midwest and Northeast, you reported onset of flowering throughout the spring, summer, and fall. In the West, your reports were generally early in the year, particularly in the Southwest.
To get a better idea of how many flowers were available at different times of the year, we can look at the number of individual plants with open flowers by region.
  • In the Great Plains, a higher number of plants with flowers occurred in the summer.
  • In the Midwest and Northeast, flowers were available for much of the year but the highest number of plants with flowers occurred in the summer and fall.
  • In the Southeast, flowers were available throughout the year.
  • In the West, flowers were available most of the year with slightly higher numbers in the spring and summer.
In addition to reporting whether or not flowers on your plants are open, we also ask you what percent of flowers are open. The graph below shows when you reported 50% or more open flowers. The pattern is consistent with those above - more flowers are available in the summer months, especially in northern regions. Southern regions and the West have flowers more consistently available in the spring and fall.
You can explore these results on our interactive Nectar Connectors Campaign Results dashboard.

What does this mean for monarchs? In the Eastern United States, monarchs migrate north from Mexico in the spring, and subsequent generations eventually reach the northern United States and Canada in the summer. Monarchs then make their migration back south in the late summer and fall. The Western population follows a distinct migration pattern and generally winters in coastal California.

As we found in previous years, your reports indicate that generally flowers were available for monarchs at locations along their migration route at the time monarchs would need them in a typical year. 

As we see more unusual seasonal climate such as early springs and late autumns, your data will help us to better understand the subtle changes in the timing of flowering from year to year. This will help us to know how nectar sources are shifting, and whether sufficient flowers are available where and when monarchs and other pollinators need them the most.

For example, let's look at the timing of open flowers in eastern baccharis (Baccharis halimifolia) reported by observers along the Gulf Coast over the past four years. This species is an important fall blooming plant for monarchs as they make their way south to their wintering grounds. The observations vary by several weeks, though most years had a peak in mid-late October. Your observations of flowering reported at the same locations over multiple years are incredibly valuable to help us see changes from year to year.
Did you earn your Nectar Connectors badge this year? See it on your Observation Deck.

We hope that you will join us again next year to continue to report on flowering of your nectar plants.

Thank you for your contributions to this important project!
Erin Posthumus