Five Favorite Native Milkweeds for Monarch Butterflies

If you want to attract Monarch butterflies to your garden you need to plant milkweed!

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Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) lay their eggs exclusively on Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.). Milkweed is named for its milky sap, which consists of latex-containing alkaloids and several other complex compounds, including  cardenolides, which are toxic and help protect the caterpillar and butterfly from predators.

There are approximately 72 different species of Milkweeds native to North America. Here are five of my favorites:

Common milkweed provides a fragrant nectaring station for all butterflies, as well as large leaves for Monarch and Queen (Danaus gilippus) butterfly caterpillars. Click here to purchase seeds.

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), is a critical plant for Monarchs but has a spreading root system so it needs plenty of space. It’s a wonderful choice for natural areas and an excellent replacement for tough invasive plants in sunny spots. The blooms are quite fragrant and attract many other species of butterflies and pollinators.

Common Milkweed the fragrant flowers, not only will it attract egg-laying Monarchs but also many other types of butterflies.
Common milkweed can be a great addition to a butterfly garden if you have room for it to spread.
  • Perennial in USDA Zones 4-9
  • Native to most of the eastern US and eastern Canada.
  • Height 2-4 feet
  • Blooms June-August
  • Full sun, but will tolerate some shade
  • Thrives on almost any well-drained soil, even tough clay or dry sand
  • Spreads rapidly by rhizomes, so it is best planted in a large area
  • Drought tolerant
Swamp milkweed is very attractive to many species of butterflies as a nectar source. So not only will it attract Monarchs for egg laying, but it’s also a butterfly magnet. Click here to purchase seeds.

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is native to wet sites but adapts to drier sites in moist clay or loam soils. Swamp milkweed is well behaved in the garden and grow in clumps rather than invasively spreading around with underground rhizomes. It will also attract beautiful butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden or meadow.

Liz DeOrsey is standing in front of her Swamp Milkweed growing in her garden in North Carolina.

Swamp Milkweed will grow well in containers and can easily be grown from cuttings. It is highly preferred by the Monarch butterflies and females will readily lay their eggs on this plant.

Butterfly milkweed is an important nectar and larval host food source for Monarchs as well as other pollinators. Many different pollinators visit the vibrant orange or yellow flower clusters for nectar rewards. Click here to purchase seeds.

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is also called Pleurisy Root, Canada Root, Orange Milkweed, and Indian Paintbrush. It takes about two years before it flowers, but it is well worth the wait for the spectacular orange blooms. Unlike other milkweed species, the leaves don’t contain a milky sap.

Butterfly Milkweed grows easily from seed, but expect that it will take two to three years to establish and produce flowers. It can become a very showy specimen, with multiple flowering stems spreading across a two foot high plant.

The plant is easily grown in average, dry to medium, well-drained soil in full sun. It is drought tolerant, moderately salt tolerant, and does well in poor, dry soils.

Showy Milkweed has soft, pastel pink flower clusters with longer petals. This sun-loving asclepias grows well in dry, fast-draining soil and requires little supplemental water once established. Click here to purchase seeds.
The very fragrant blooms attract many different pollinators including hummingbirds.

Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, has flowers that resemble a cluster of brilliant pink stars. Although it spreads through underground rhizomes, it is far less aggressive than common milkweed, and is an excellent alternative.

The much sought-after and rare Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens), looks similar to Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), but the flower color is a rich red-purple color compared to the soft gray-pink of Common Milkweed. Click here to purchase seeds.

Purple  Milkweed (Asclepias Purpurascens) is unique in that it posses the most beautiful purple flowers of all of the milkweeds. This plant likes full sun to partial shade (prefers morning sun and afternoon shade.) The fragrant flowers attract many species of butterflies, hummingbirds, bees and other pollinators.

Grow Asclepias purpurascens in a site that is well drained but has ample moisture. It seems to prefer a bit of shade but will do well in full sun if it gets deep, regular watering.

Purple milkweed tends to spread less aggressively than Common Milkweed. Purple Milkweed are rare plants and can be difficult to establish in gardens. It may take several years for Purple Milkweeds to flower when introduced into a garden, but is definitely worth the wait!

    •  Hardy perennial in USDA zones 3-9
    • Native to Eastern North America
    • Height 18″ – 36″ tall
    • Blooms from June to August
    • Full sun to partial shade
    • Prefers fertile, moist, well-drained soil

The absolute best way to help Monarch butterflies is to plant milkweed! Without a major effort to restore milkweed, the monarch population is certain to decline. Monarchs depend on milkweed for survival.

Spread the message with this “Plant Milkweed T-shirt by Butterfly Lady: