8 Native Milkweeds for Monarch Butterflies

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Milkweed may have an ugly name, but it sure is accurate! When damaged, their foliage exudes a milky latex sap that is toxic to most wildlife. It’s native to the prairies, fields, and wetlands of the United States, where it spreads prolifically from seed. While milkweed may grow in the landscape like a weed – don’t underestimate its ecological importance! Its flowers provide nutrient-rich nectar and pollen for pollinators, but that’s not all they offer. Milkweed plays a vital role in the Monarch butterfly lifecycle, serving as a host plant for monarch caterpillars.

Monarch caterpillars exclusively feed on their leaves, which are filled with cardenolides. Cardenolides are stored in the bodies of Monarch caterpillars and butterflies as a defense against predators. Without milkweed, we wouldn’t have Monarchs.

Monarch butterfly on a light pink bloom on a milkweed plant

Are Milkweed Bugs Harmful?

It’s not uncommon to find orange and black insects on your milkweed, especially in the fall. Don’t worry; these insects are harmless to you and the plant! They’re called milkweed bugs, and similar to Monarch caterpillars, they feed exclusively on milkweeds. They feed on the seeds, which each milkweed plant produces thousands of. If you find milkweed bugs on your plants, you can ignore them or just remove them by hand.

close up of milkweed bugs on a milkweed plant

There really are so many reasons to grow milkweed: they boast showy flowers, support pollinators, are easy to grow, deer resistant, drought-tolerant, low maintenance, generally disease-free, and they add whimsical charm to the garden. Flowers bloom all summer long, and when they fade, they’re replaced with giant seed pods filled with silky wind-dispersed seeds. Growing them is a no-brainer! Here are 8 of our favorite milkweeds to add to your garden:

1.) 'Cinderella' Swamp Milkweed

(Asclepias incarnata)

With butterflies fluttering around the clusters of elegant pink blooms, ‘Cinderella’ swamp milkweed really looks like it belongs in a fairytale! Bright pink flower buds open to pale pink flowers, each heavily laden with nectar.

Native range: AL, AR, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WI, WV, WY

2.) 'Gay Butterflies' Milkweed Mix

(Asclepias tuberosa)

Delight Monarchs (or any pollinators) by adding ‘Gay Butterflies’ milkweed mix to your garden. Flowers are a mix of red, orange, and yellow hues that will certainly have your garden buzzing! Their warm colors welcome the heat of summer with open arms.

Native range: AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WI, WV

3.) 'Hello Yellow' Milkweed

(Asclepias tuberosa)

Cheery yellow flowers may be the best way to welcome pollinators to your garden, and ‘Hello Yellow’ milkweed is covered in them! They aren’t only rich in nectar, but fragrance as well, making them a magnet for butterflies and gardeners.

Native range: AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WI, WV

4.) Prairie Milkweed

(Asclepias sullivantii)

Clusters of pale pink flowers bloom in the summer, but what makes prairie milkweed stand out is the foliage! In our opinion, this milkweed has the most attractive leaves. Thick, smooth leaves look appealing all season long, serving as the perfect food source for caterpillars.

Native range: AR, IA, IL, IN, KS, MI, MN, MO, ND, NE, OH, OK, SD, WI

5.) Whorled Milkweed

(Asclepias verticillata)

Whorled milkweed puts a twist on the classic milkweed look with long, slender, needle-like leaves. It may not have the flashiest flowers, but they certainly are just as effective for attracting pollinators! Petals take on white and green hues that glow in the moonlight.

Native range: AL, AR, AZ, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, VA, VT, WI, WV, WY

6.) Orange Milkweed

(Asclepias tuberosa)

Orange milkweed is a beacon for Monarchs with brilliant orange flowers that bloom continuously through the summer. It looks tropical, but trust us, it’s native! With colors this bright, we know it will catch the eye of every pollinator and gardener in (or near) your garden.

Native range: AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WI, WV

7.) Showy Milkweed

(Asclepias speciosa)

Globular clusters of pink, star-shaped flowers on showy milkweed make a big impact in the garden! The spikey flowers bloom on top of upright stems, boasting nectar and fragrance for pollinators. It isn’t as aggressive as other milkweeds, making it a little easier to control in the garden.

Native range: AZ, CA, CO, IA, ID, IL, KS, MI, MN, MT, ND, NE, NM, NV, OK, OR, SD, TX, UT, WA, WI, WY

8.) 'Ice Ballet' Swamp Milkweed

(Asclepias incarnata)

Crisp white blooms of ‘Ice Ballet’ swamp milkweed are like a vanilla ice cream cone for pollinators! Flowers are fragrant, rich in nectar, and bloom all summer long. The best part? They don’t melt in the heat like our ice cream would.

Native range: AL, AR, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WI, WV, WY

Written by: Miranda Niemiec, click here to read bio.

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