Twelve Native Milkweeds

Planting milkweed is one of the easiest ways that each of us can make a difference for Monarch butterflies. There are several dozen species of this wildflower native to North America. 

Butterfly Weed (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.

  • Perennial in USDA Zones 4-11.
  • Native to most of the Continental US and Eastern Canada.
  • Plant in full sun.
  • Dry, sandy, well-drained, and slightly acidic soil.
  • Height 30-40 inches.
  • Drought Tolerant.
  • Orange crown-shaped cluster blooms Summer to Fall

Swamp Milkweed  (Asclepias incarnata) usually grows in moist areas but it does not require a moist location in the garden. It will grow well in containers and can easily be grown from cuttings. There are different varieties of this milkweed including ‘Cinderella’ Swamp Milkweed (pink blooms) ‘Ice Ballet’ Swamp Milkweed (white blooms.)

  • Perennial in USDA Zones 3-9
  • Native to most of the eastern US and eastern Canada.
  • Will tolerate shade but also full sun
  • Height 4 to 6 feet
  • Needs moist to wet soil
  • Blooms throughout the summer.
  • Fragrant flowers
  • Tolerant of drought conditions once established

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.

  • Perennial  USDA Zones 4-9
  • Native to most of the eastern US and eastern Canada
  • Full sun, but will tolerate some shade.
  • Height 2-4 feet
  • Well-drained soil, even tough clay or dry sand
  • Rose-colored blooms early to late Summer
  • Drought tolerant.

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.


  • Perennial in USDA Zones 3-9
  • Native to the western half of US and Canada
  • Full sun
  • Height 2 to 4 feet
  • Grows best in well-drained soil
  • Drought tolerant.
  • Blooms late spring to early fall

Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens) is similar in appearance to common milkweed, but the blooms are a deeper purple color and this species won’t take over your garden.

  • USDA hardiness zones 3a-9b
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Height 2 to 3 feet
  • Needs partially wet, well-drained soil.
  • Blooms late spring to early summer.

Aquatic Milkweed (Asclepias perennis) prefers wet, rich soil and can be found in wetlands and swamps throughout the Southeastern United States. Not to be confused with swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), the flowers are white and restricted to floodplain forest and along streams.

• Perennial in USDA Zones 6-9.
• Native to the Southeastern United States.
• Partial shade to full sun.
• Prefers moist rich soil.
• Height 1-2 feet.
• Requires regular watering.

Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltada) is one of the few milkweeds that are shade tolerant. This low-maintenance, quick-growing native grows wild in most of the Eastern US and Canada, primarily in damp, shady edges of clearings, or on shorelines of ponds and other waterways. Poke Milkweed is often planted as a fast-growing annual in colder zones, where it will tolerate full sun.

• Perennial in USDA Zones 3-7.
• Native to the eastern United States.
• Partial shade.
• Prefers sand, loam, and well-drained soil.
• Height 2-6 feet.

Spider Milkweed (Asclepias viridis), also known as Green Milkweed, and Green Antelopehorn Milkweed, is one of the earliest spring blooming milkweeds with large yellow and green flowers and purple centers.

• Perennial USDA Zones 3-11.
• Native to south central and southeastern United States.
• Full sun.
• Sandy or rocky well-drained soil.
• Height 1-2 feet.
• Drought tolerant.

Prairie Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii) is extremely easy to grow and grows in any sunny spot in the garden. It is similar to Common Milkweed but is less aggressive, has slightly smaller flowers, and an overall smooth appearance on the stem, leaves, and seed pods.

• Perennial in USDA Zones 3-7.
• Native to central and south-central United States.
• Full sun.
• Height 3 feet
• Grows best in consistently moist soil.

Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) has very skinny, “whorled” leaves. There are clusters of approximately 20 flowers near the top of each plant. Whorled Milkweed can bloom anytime between July and September, which is later in the year than many other milkweeds. The white flowers can be a greenish-white on some plants. Please note, this species is rhizomatous and will spread.

• USDA Zones 3-9.
• Native to eastern North America and parts of western Canada and the United States.
• Partial shade to full sun.
• Medium, to medium-dry well-drained soil.
• Height 2-3 feet.• Drought tolerant

Narrowleaf Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis), also known as Mexican Whorled Milkweed, blooms in clusters of lavender, pale pink, purple, white, to greenish shades of flowers. It is one of the easiest milkweeds to grow and establish.

• USDA Zones 3-11.
• Native to California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.
• Thrives in full sun.
• Dry to rocky well-drained soil.
• Height 24”- 48” tall.
• Drought tolerant.

Short Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora) is one of the more widespread milkweeds. While not exceptionally beautiful, it is an interesting milkweed variety. . It is short, compact, and not too aggressive so functionally makes it a great milkweed for a normal/dry to dry yard. Interesting fact about this plant is the Blackfoot Indians used the chewed roots to treat topical swellings and rashes, and chewed the roots for sore throat.

• USDA Zones 3-9.
• Native eastern and central United States from Connecticut to Georgia to Arizona to Montana, as well as southern Canada.
• Partial or full sun.
• Medium-dry to dry soil.
• Height 12” tall.
• Drought tolerant.

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