Plant Milkweed (Native only)



My Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), a native milkweed, is just beginning to bloom.  I emphasize native, because Better Homes and Gardens is promoting a tropical milkweed to attract Monarch Butterflies.


From Wild Ones Journal June 2013 Update:


Better Homes and Gardens 

The May 2013 issue of Better Homes and Gardens encourages readers in their “garden/nature” news to grow A. curassavica or tropical milkweed.


The MayJuneJuly 2013 issue of the Wild Ones Journal article “Can Milkweed Hurt Monarchs?” (page 11) specifically discourages people from growing this plant because it does more harm than good for the migrating monarchs. “In addition to concerns over the impact of tropical milkweed on diapause and the migratory behavior of monarchs, scientists also have concerns over how tropical milkweed may affect the spread of a monarch parasite.”


Please write to the BH&G Editor and let her know how harmful their recommendation can be.  or e-mail  or write to Magazine Customer Service, ATTN:  Gayle Butler, Editor in Chief , P.O. Box 37508, Boone, IA 50037-0508.


Here is a letter that Sue Harney, Dundee, IL Township Supervisor wrote to BH&G:


On 6/14/13 4:49 PM, “Sue Harney” <> wrote:

Dear Ms. Butler,
BHG recently recommended that people plant tropical milkweed in their gardens to provide food for Monarchs.  Great that your organization is trying to help Monarchs – not so great to plant tropical milkweed.  Please change this advice as tropical milkweed appears to cause problems with Monarchs and hibernation.  The Monarch population is in extreme danger and it is imperative that we use the best science to help this lovely species survive.   Good intentions aren’t enough.   Monarchs need milkweeds native to areas in their migration to give them the best chance of surviving.

Why does it matter if the milkweed is native to this area or another?  A review of the work of Dr. Doug Tallamy, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at  the University of Delaware in Newark Delaware provides the answer.  Dr. Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home, makes the case for the necessity of using plants native to one’s own region when trying to help insects and wildlife survive and prosper.  He is a wonderfully entertaining speaker and his message needs to be heard by your staff and your readership.   Please read his book  and use your influence to be a well-informed advocate for Monarchs.   You are in a unique position to make a meaningful contribution to the Monarchs’ survival.

Thank you
Sue Harney
DundeeTownship Supervisor
557 Barrington Ave
E. Dundee, Il 60118
847-428-8092 X 1



From: BHG Editor []
Sent: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 11:42 AM
To: Sue Harney
Subject: Re: tropical milkweed


Dear Sue,

Thank you so much for your message.  Our readers’ views and suggestions are very important to us so we’re glad you wrote.  Following is a response from our garden editor, Eric Liskey:

Thanks for your response regarding monarchs and Asclepias curassavica. The effects of this plant on monarch populations certainly bears watching. However, at this point there are differing views from various researchers on  how much, or if, the plant negatively affects monarch populations; and if so, whether these effects exist beyond the limited areas where A. curassavica is invasive. In addition, declining native milkweed populations in many areas have even brought some to the conclusion that A. curassavica actually helps maintain monarch numbers. So there are conflicting opinions about this. Given that the net effect of A. curassavica on monarchs seems to be poorly understood, I am reluctant to condemn this much-loved ornamental.  I will, however, follow the issue, and try to report any newsworthy developments.

Sue, please know we appreciate your interest in Better Homes and Gardens and wish you all the best.

Best regards,
Jeri @ BHG Editor

There you have it.


If there’s any chance that Tropical Milkweed can harm Monarch butterflies, then why risk using it?



Monarch on my Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) 6/4/08

Monarch Caterpillar on Asclepias tuberosa, 6/23/08


Monarch butterfly on Butterfly Weed 7/10/09



These pictures are all taken in my yard–as you can see, butterfly or caterpillar activity take place throughout the warm seasons of northeast Illinois.

I originally planted Butterfly Weed in the middle of the border on the right, but it prefers being next to the concrete sidewalk.  In 1998, I planted 20 2.5” plugs in various places in my front and side gardens.  I now have 30 plants, all of them self-seeded, growing about my gardens, and all but three  are growing next to a sidewalk, a street curb, a black-topped driveway or a brick walk.   What does that tell you?  It tells me it’s a calciphite–lime-loving, in other words.  This photo we taken 7/10/09.  The new show will begin within the week.

In nature, it Butterfly Weed grows in dry (well-drained) prairie or sandy Black Oak savanna.  There is a stunning display at Illinois Beach State Park at Zion around the 4th of July every year, but alas; I have never seen it.  Does anyone have a photograph they would like to share?

Butterfly Weed is the only Milkweed (Asclepias) that I grow.  I have planted Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and Prairie Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii), but they only survived one season.  Swink and Wilhelm list 15 species that grow in the Chicago region, all native to the area save one.  I’ll give you the list and talk a little bit about the more familiar ones next time.

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4 Responses to Plant Milkweed (Native only)

  1. John Schultz June 22, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    I couldn’t agree with you more. If there is even a potential risk to the monarch butterfly from tropical milkweed then why risk using it. It probably has to do with the words “much-loved ornamental.” They are too afraid of upsetting readers than they are of possibly giving bad advice. Really, how many would they lose if they recommended planting native milkweeds instead?

  2. Suzanne Poursine Massion June 22, 2013 at 6:38 pm #

    Pat, this is a great blog, especially the conversation between Sue Harney and BHG. There are so many road blocks facing us just to get the information out. Occasionally I find some Swamp Milkweed in our prairie, but never in the same place. Common Milkweed loves us so I’m letting it seed as much as possible. I’ll be so excited if I find Monarchs and those beautiful caterpillars out there. As always, your images are beautiful. Looking forward to your list of other native species.

  3. Tony Gomez July 1, 2013 at 10:14 pm #

    There is also research that suggests Asclepias curassavica is medicinal to monarchs and decreases levels of OE disease.

    I have 8 species of milkweed in our garden and they all get attention from monarchs at various points in the season. You may be surprised to hear that tuberosa is the least popular milkweed we have for laying eggs. That is why I will not be adding any more tuberosa plants.

    Tropical milkweed gets far more visits (as both a nectar plant and host plant) than butterfly weed and the majority of people who plant both will tell you the same thing.

    For those who live in the deep south, planting curassavica can still be an option if they cut it back to the ground in October. That way the monarchs will be motivated to continue their migration to Mexico.

    If people are given the choice between planting native options like common milkweed or nothing, many will unfortunately choose nothing.

    With the monarch population in peril for far more ominous reasons, I’m not sure this is the battle we should be fighting.

    Respectfully, Tony Gomez

  4. KC Clark August 31, 2013 at 1:45 am #

    Tropical milkweed is bad for three reasons: (1) Some US monarchs have quit migrating because they have found tropical milkweed patches to be a good place to hang out, (2) some migrating monarchs break sexual diapause and lay eggs because they find tropical milkweed where the native milkweed has already packed it in for the fall, and (3) monarchs that ate tropical milkweed weigh less than monarchs that ate native milkweed. The hypothesis here is the lighter monarchs are less likely to survive the trip to Mexico when compared to the heavier monarchs.

    The monarch population is not in peril. It is the migration as we know it that is in peril. Tropical milkweed is one of items putting pressure on the migration.

    My apologies to Tony for taking so long to find this post. I don’t want Tony thinking that I’m laying down on the job.

    I used to grow butterfly weed but never found monarchs on it so I did not grow it at my later houses. That changed this year. I put in a bunch of butterfly weed because I got up to speed on a moth that has a lot more problems than the monarchs, the unexpected cycnia moth. I was on a trek when people I was with got excited about a fuzzy caterpillar they found on butterfly weed. That is when I found out the unexpected cycnia is threatened and really likes butterfly weed. Figured I’d try to help out.

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