Monarch Butterflies and Milkweed






Everyone knows that Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on members of the milkweed genus and their caterpillars only eat milkweed leaves. There are, however, several species of milkweed that are more suited to gardens than the common roadside milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).

If any of you have seen my gardens at the end of June and beginning of July, you know how striking Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is.   (Whoever named Buddleia davidii Butterfly Bush was a marketing genius; whoever named  Butterfly Weed–not so much.)

Vibrant orange, flat-topped flower clusters bloom at the top of 1-2’ stiff upright stems from early to late June until early September.  It likes a well-drained soil, even sand or gravel, and, if happy, will seed itself about as these have next to my sidewalk.  Butterfly Weed arranges itself along sidewalk edges or next to flagstones because of its need for calcium.

Other members of the Asclepias genus are just as appealing to Monarch caterpillars. Ten species grow in Kane County but only four are available at local nurseries, including  the two mentioned above.  The other two follow:




The dense, domed, delightfully fragrant blossoms of Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias  incarnata) bloom at the top of 2-4’ tall, smooth, branched stems in July and August.  It thrives in wet areas, but will grow in mesic areas, as well.  In the wild it is common in wet prairies, marshes, fens, swales, and along the shores of ponds, streams, and rivers.

I found a lovely patch of Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)  growing in our church prairie just last week.



Its light green, linear leaves grow in whorls around the short stems interspersed with clusters of fine, fragrant flowers, followed by shiny, slender, small pods. It is common in dry, grassy roadsides, pastures, and abandoned fields.   I/ve never seen it in a garden situation, so I don’t know what to suggest.  Perhaps in  lawn?  Would it survive mowing?    If anyone has any experience or knowledge, please share.

While only Monarch caterpillars eat the leaves of Milkweed species, many, many species of butterflies nectar on the flowers.


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