A rare plant, native to Texas and northeastern Mexico, may soon be on the endangered species list. Prostrate milkweed is part of a support system that is important for bees and monarch butterflies.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) may name the plant an endangered species as humans destroy the plant’s critical habitats.
On Monday, USFWS proposed it receive an endangered species listing, based on the "best available status." Chris Best is a USFWS botanist in Texas. He said the prostrate milkweed's flowers "attract and support native pollinators," including big bees and wasps. It acts as a host plant for monarch butterflies.
According to Best, prostrate milkweed is negatively impacted by competition from both introduced buffelgrass and increased development in its native Tamaulipan shrubland habitat.
Habitat loss and degradation also result from human activities like root-plowing, border crossing activity, energy development, road and utility construction, and right-of-way maintenance, according to the agency.
This unrelated 6:09-minute video by Commander Ben from 2011 interviews Dr. Karen Clary from University of Texas. They discuss the prostrate milkweed and other plants struggling against invasive plants:
The USFWS proposes that nearly 700 acres of critical habitats in eight occupied areas in Starr and Zapata counties near the Rio Grande be designated to conserve the plant. Those areas were chosen due to their features that are essential for the species' conservation.
The proposed rule was just published on the Federal Register and people can submit comments until April 18, 2022.
The Center for Biological Diversity has pushed for the protected status. According to them, there are just 24 populations of the plant remaining in those counties, and 19 are rated as being in low condition.
Michael Robinson represents The Center for Biological Diversity. He hopes that Endangered Species Act protection will keep the prostrate milkweed flowering in South Texas for generations. Federal action is crucial. Although this plant has survived in tough landscapes for ages, it is at the edge of extinction due to invasive plant and human development.
Environmentalists have pushed for prostrate milkweed protection under the Endangered Species Act for a long time. A petition was made in 2007 and 2009 for the plant to be considered endangered. The USFWS found the petition presented “substantial information that listing may be warranted."
If the milkweed is protected, it could also help bee conservation efforts.
Scientists said in 2020 that climate change is killing bumblebees, that the likelihood of a bumblebee population surviving in a single location in North America and Europe has declined by an average of 30% within one human generation.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service found that honey production and bee colony numbers declined in Texas last year. The winter storm that froze the state in 2021 delayed wildflower bloom and killed bees, especially in South Texas, where they could not cope with sudden freezing temperatures. Lack of food availability for bees was also due to a lack of rain.