By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer
Because of agricultural herbicides and other human interference with nature, milkweed plants are not as widely available for monarchs these days. Continue reading to learn more about different types of milkweed you can grow to help future generations of monarch butterflies.
With monarch butterfly populations having dropped more than 90% in the last twenty years because of a loss of host plants, growing different milkweed plants is very important for future of monarchs. Milkweed plants are the monarch butterfly’s only host plant. In midsummer, female monarch butterflies visit milkweed to drink its nectar and lay eggs. When these eggs hatch into tiny monarch caterpillars, they immediately begin to feed on the leaves of their milkweed host. After a couple weeks of feeding, a monarch caterpillar will seek out a safe place to form its chrysalis, where it will become a butterfly.
With over 100 native species of milkweed plants in the United States, almost anyone can grow varieties of milkweed in their area. Many types of milkweed are specific to certain regions of the country.
Below is a list of different types of milkweed and their native regions. This list does not contain all varieties of milkweed, just the best kinds of milkweed to support monarchs in your region.
South Central Region
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Some people believe that by creating a butterfly garden focused on monarchs, you’ll leave the other poor pollinators out in the cold…that couldn’t be further from the truth!
Here are 6 butterfly garden plants frequently visited by both monarchs and hummingbirds:
Zinnias add multi-bursts of color to your garden with their showy blooms. The taller varieties attract large butterflies including monarchs, and those hyper-winged hummers.
Unexpected Dinner Guest
Originally, we added this to our northern garden as a hummingbird plant. It quickly became their favorite nectar plant, even outperforming the widely-known hummer fave black and blue salvia. Then, when the monarchs started to gather for their great fall migration, I was amazed to see they were also frequent fliers to this agastache hybrid!
Buy this for the hummers, but look for some late season visits from monarchs too.
Possibly the best nectar flower for attracting both beauties to your garden doorstep. The brilliant orange flowers are tall beacons of light that the pollinators can’t miss. However, the dwarf varieties have not shown similar powers of attraction.
A Tasty Tropical Drink
Get more bang from your asclepias selections. These 3 varieties are all monarchs host plants for caterpillars, and nectar plants for both monarch butterflies and hummingbirds…and lots of other pollinators!
(The same can’t be said for most other milkweeds.)
If you’re concerned about hurting monarchs by growing tropical milkweed, there are simple precautions you can take in the fewwarm weather regions where this can be an issue. Click Here for More Info
One of biggest pollinator draws for North American gardens. These tall, purple flower spikes attract hummingbirds, monarchs, and a Noah’s Ark Boatload of other precious pollinators.
We grow a dwarf butterfly bush variety that gets lots of monarch and hummingbird visitors, but most varieties are a huge draw for both.
If you live in a region where butterfly bush is considered invasive, try a non-invasive or sterile cultivar or look for an alternative butterfly plant.
The non-invasive buzz variety has been a huge draw to our northern butterfly garden, and it has never self seeded. It even survived the 10th coldest winter in Minnesota history!
This Australian native grows well in warm regions of the US attracting monarchs, other butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. The brilliant red blooms are on continuous display from spring through fall. Callistemon species can grow to 10 feet, but smaller cultivars are available.
…and while you may think that hummingbird feeders are just for the hummers, a bold monarch male at Valerie’s house might have to disagree:
Almost all asclepias (milkweed) plants produce a white, sticky sap that oozes freely when their stems or leaves are broken. This sap contains a semi-poisonous compound that can be toxic to animals when consumed in large quantities. Even in small amounts, the cardiac glycosides in milkweed will make birds and other smaller species quite sick.
It is this sap that is the key to the survival of the monarch butterfly. Monarch caterpillars will eat ONLY milkweed foliage. Monarch caterpillars cannot survive on any other plant. Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants after feeding on the nectar in their flowers. The caterpillars can safely grow to maturity on the asclepias plants. Predators will avoid both the plant and the brightly striped green/ black/white caterpillars.
We've been busy watching many different butterflies this summer in our garden. It seems they love this heat and humidity. And there's been enough water for them to thrive. Of course, this time of year the Monarch butterflies become more noticeable. Their prized plant is the milkweed. Many insects only feed and lay eggs on a few different types of plants. That's certainly true of monarchs. Anything in the milkweed family is fair game. Monarch caterpillars have the unique ability to eat the milkweed leaves even with the toxic, white, milky sap. It actually makes the Monarchs less appealing to birds, so it's a protection device, too.
Before you go planting milkweed in your garden, though, be warned. Some, such as the common, Asclepias syriaca, can become invasive, spreading throughout a garden. It's best to leave the common milkweed to wildflower meadows and grow some of the less aggressive milkweed species.
Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, has attractive pink flowers and thrives in moist to wet soils. Purple milkweed, Asclepias purpurascens, has purple flowers, loves the sun and tolerates dry soils. White milkweed, Ascpelias variegata, produces small, white blossoms and thrives in poor, dry soils. And butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, has orange flowers and grows well in most garden soils.
Grow some of these milkweed in your butterfly or pollinator gardens. Match the type of milkweed species with your growing conditions and other plants that thrive there. Milkweed grows well with butterfly favorite flowers such as echinacea, salvia, Mexican sunflower, coreopsis, and bee balm. Of course, milkweed also looks great planted in groups in meadows and other naturalized areas.