6 Fascinating Milkweed Facts You Should Know

Updated: Jan. 09, 2024

There's much more to milkweed plants than you know. Discover fascinating milkweed facts about this butterfly garden staple.

Monarch Butterflies Need Milkweed to Survive

milkweed factsRichard Day/Daybreak Imagery
Monarch feeding on butterfly milkweed blooms

Milkweed is the one and only host plant for monarch caterpillars and butterflies, which prefer local, native varieties. Avoid growing non-native tropical milkweed. When you’re done reading these milkweed facts, find out if milkweed is poisonous to people and pets.

Milkweed Also Attracts Other Butterflies

Queen Butterfly on MilkweedSweetyMommy/Getty Images
Queen butterfly on showy milkweed flowers

Though monarchs are the most well known, two other orange-and-black butterflies in the U.S. use milkweed as a host plant: queens and soldiers.

Meet the milkweed tussock moth and caterpillar.

There’s Over 100 Milkweed Species to Grow

swamp milkweedCourtesy Mary Kapral
Swamp milkweed is a good choice for moist clay soil or a rain garden

You can find more than 140 species of milkweed (Asclepias spp.) in nature. Look for common milkweed, butterfly weed and swamp milkweed. Plant showy milkweed in arid conditions.

Is honeyvine milkweed an invasive plant?

The Rarest Type of Milkweed in the Americas

Prostrate milkweed (A. prostrata) is endangered. Only 24 populations of this plant remain in South Texas and northern Mexico. Are monarch butterflies endangered?

Should gardeners remove milkweed bugs? Plus, here’s how to get rid of aphids on milkweed plants.

What Do Milkweed Flowers Look Like?

Narrow leaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) wildflowersSundry Photography/Getty Images
Narrow-leaf milkweed

Milkweed flowers typically have five downward-facing petals, and an upward-facing corona made up of five hoods.

Check out more nectar-rich monarch butterfly flowers you should grow in your garden.

Milkweed Floss Saved Sailors’ Lives

Monarch Butterfly Danaus Plexippus Resting On Seed Pod Of Common Milkweed Asclepias Syriaca Ready To Migrate E UsaSkip Moody / Dembinsky Photo Associates / Alamy / Alamy Stock Photo
Monarch butterfly on a common milkweed seedpod

Share this one of our milkweed facts with history lovers. The floss from two bags of ripe milkweed pods (40 lbs. total) could fill one life jacket for World War II sailors.

Next, learn how to collect milkweed seeds.