Top 10 Types of Milkweed to Support Monarch Butterflies
You have probably thought about planting milkweed to help monarch butterflies. Here are 10 of the best types of milkweed to grow.
Why the buzz about milkweeds? You may have been hearing about milkweed lately, with good reason. As the only plant monarch caterpillars (Dannaus plexipips) live and feed upon, milkweeds are critical for the keystone monarch butterfly’s survival – but they also support scores of pollinators and beneficial insects, including bees, other butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds.
With many different types of milkweed to choose from, it can be confusing to know which milkweed to plant. Of the over 100 milkweed (Asclepias) species, only 40 host monarch caterpillars. It’s important to choose one for your region that local pollinators evolved to live with.
The Xerces Society does not recommend planting tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), for instance. While its beautiful bicolor flowers do feed monarchs, its extended bloom time encourages a parasite that weakens monarch populations. (If you have tropical milkweed naturalized in your area, cut the flowers in winter to lessen the impact.)
The good news is, wherever you live, there’s a native milkweed that will thrive in your garden. They come in a vast range of colors and preferred growing conditions—each with a beautiful flower more intricate than the last.
The National Wildlife Federation highlights the first three species on this list that are great choices for most regions. The other seven varieties are worth making a bit more effort to seek out.
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Asclepias syriaca, Zones 3 to 9
With a range covering 39 states, common milkweed is a taller summer bloomer for open spaces that requires full sun. Make sure to give it room to roam, however—because it will. Gardeners with small spaces should consider other less aggressive types of milkweed.
Why we love it: Globes of pink-purple stars shine on 3- to 5-foot tall plants from June through August.
Before you get started, check out the ultimate milkweed plant growing guide.
Asclepias incarnata, Zones 3 to 9
Striking magenta and white flower balls bloom summer through fall and prefer shade and moist soil.
Why we love it: Growing in 43 states, this adaptable 2- to 5-foot-tall plant is readily available. Also, swamp milkweed is not a romper.
Backyard Tip: Although bitter-tasting, all types of milkweeds are toxic to animals when ingested in large quantities. Avoid growing milkweed near livestock fields. The plants also contain sap that can be irritating to the skin, so wear gloves while pruning.
Asclepias tuberosa, Zones 3 to 9
With an even broader range of 41 states, butterfly weed glows in warm golds and oranges. Its flat-topped clusters are showy all the way from May through September.
Why we love it: Well-behaved and compact at 1 to 2 feet tall, it’s easy to fit into any sunny, well-drained garden.
Does milkweed need full sun or shade to grow best?
Ascelpias verticilata, Zones 3 to 9
This milkweed’s fine-textured needle-like leaves and pale cream summer flowers lend a refined air to this 2-foot by 2-foot prairie plant. This is one of the types of milkweed that prefers dry sunny conditions.
Why we love it: One of the first types of milkweed to emerge, it sustains monarch butterflies who arrive early.
Discover fascinating milkweed facts you should know.
Asclepias purpurascens, Zones 3 to 8
Averaging 2 to 3 feet tall and wide, it prefers consistent watering and loamy soil in partial sun. It can take time to establish, but it’s worth it.
Why we love it: That look-at-me rosy magenta is distinct among milkweeds and will be the jewel that sets off the rest of your collection.
Should gardeners remove milkweed bugs?
Sullivant’s Milkweed/Prairie Milkweed
Asclepias sullivantii, Zones 3 to 7
Looking like a bouquet of tiny pink columbines, this milkweed likes full sun and somewhat moist soil of any kind. It grows 2 to 3 feet tall and 1 foot wide.
Why we love it: It spreads more slowly than common milkweed but is just as lovely.
Is honeyvine milkweed an invasive plant?
Asclepias speciosa, Zones 3 to 9
A distinctive, robust choice reaching up to 3 feet tall, showy milkweed prefers dry, arid soils with good drainage. It is an excellent choice for gardeners in the western and southwestern U.S.
Why we love it: The star-shaped blooms are stunning and it is very drought tolerant.
Meet the milkweed tussock moth and caterpillar.
Antelope Horn Milkweed/Spider Milkweed
Asclepias asperula, Zones 5 to 9
Similar to but more intricate than A. viridis, which is also commonly called spider milkweed, this Southwest native stunner’s seed heads mimic horns and the plant reaches 2 feet tall by 2 feet wide. It prefers sun and sandy or clay soil.
Why we love it: The floral show lasts from March to October, getting better each year.
Learn how to collect milkweed seeds from pods.
Short Green Milkweed
Asclepias viridiflora, Zones 3 to 9
A. viridiflora’s palest green flowers look more like a stylized allium than other types of milkweed. It prefers sandy or gravelly soil in hot, dry conditions.
Why we love it: Here’s another eye-catcher whose flowers reward close inspection—or sketching—and makes a nice edging plant at 1 foot tall and wide.
Learn how to get rid of aphids on milkweed plants.
Asclepias exaltata, Zones 4 to 7
This plant features drooping clusters of white or purple flowers that float on 3- to 5-foot-tall plants from May to August.
Why we love it: Poke milkweed is one of the most shade-tolerant types of milkweed, so give it a try if your gardens are more shady than sunny.
Next, enjoy these pretty pictures of milkweed flowers in bloom.