10 Best Types of Milkweed to Bring Back the Monarchs

The discussion about types of milkweed lately has attracted the attention of many people, especially gardeners.

Although initially considered a pest, this shrub is getting popular thanks to the monarch butterfly. How could that be?

As background knowledge, the monarch butterfly population has declined sharply in California and Mexico.

Various reports suggest that the cause is the declining number of milkweed in regions. In fact, over the previous decades, milkweed had indeed been the enemy of many farmers.

This weed is poisonous, but its growth is too rapid for gardeners to make various attempts to eradicate it.

Milkweed nectar is the only food the monarch butterfly eats. If this continues, people are afraid of wiping out this beautiful creature.

Therefore, the search for types of milkweed and how to grow it has increased sharply in recent years.

Then what is unique about this plant? Check out the answer below!


What is Milkweed?

It's a flowering perennial that produces a milky substance that contains cardiac glycosides.
Common Milkweed

Milkweed is a herbaceous plant that grows in America. Besides, this grower is famous for producing latex.

Latex is a kind of milky substance that contains cardenolides, which are a kind of cardiac glycosides that develop in areas of damaged cells.

Cardenolides are toxic to humans and several other organisms. For this reason, since ancient times, this plant has been the enemy of farmers.

However, some animals, such as the monarch butterfly, make it their favorite host. For the monarch, some types of milkweed are heaven and a food source.

They go through most of the stages of metamorphosis, from egg to butterfly, on different parts of this plant.

Meanwhile, the types of milkweed are very diverse, and this genus has more than 200 species. However, not all of them have the same characteristics.

Bring Back Monarch Butterfly

The milkweed plant provides all the nourishment the monarch needs to transform the Monarch caterpillar into the adult butterfly.
Monarch butterfly on milkweed

As explained earlier, milkweed is the home plant of the monarch butterfly. Meanwhile, over the last 20 years or so, the population of this insect has continued to decline by 90 percent.

Based on the analysis of various parties, this is due to community activities that continue to erode the milkweed population.

The use of chemicals to eradicate this plant has had a significant impact.

On the other hand, the monarch butterfly is an iconic insect for Americans. By planting more milkweeds, their population also grows.

Therefore, The National Wildlife Federation invited the public to conserve milkweed to save the monarch butterfly.

Residents can plant massively according to their respective regions.

However, regarding the “Bring Back Monarch Butterfly” program, only a few types of milkweed are perfect for breeding. The information is in the next section.

Types of Milkweed by States

Asclepias speciosa (Showy Milkweed) is an erect, clump-forming perennial prized for its brilliant spherical clusters of fragrant, pinkish-white, starry flowers, which bloom from late spring to early summer.
Asclepias milkweed

To make the “Bring back the Monarch” program a success, the government has divided this plant based on its habitat. The following is the division of the milkweed zone.

  • The Northeast Region includes North Dakota, Kansas, Virginia, and all states north of this.
  • The Southeastern Region includes Arkansas North Carolina and all states south of this, and Florida.
  • The South Central Region includes Texas and Oklahoma.
  • The Western Region includes all western states.
  • California milkweed. Despite its western-based location, this state has its own region.
  • Arizona milkweed also has its own region despite its western-based location.

With the division of native milkweed by state, people will more easily determine the types to plant. Information is easier because the government has provided a site to make it easier to search.

Types of Milkweed for Monarch Butterflies

Three species have particularly wide ranges and are good choices in most regions: common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), swamp milkweed (A. incarnata), and butterflyweed (A. tuberosa).
Milkweed varieties

With hundreds of types of milkweed, conservation should be easier. However, for several reasons, they prefer to lay eggs in only certain species.

  1. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

This is a tall and conspicuous species that sometimes forms large clones.
Asclepias syriaca

Asclepias syriaca is one of the most common species in the United States. Although many types of milkweed are poisonous, this common plant has been a medical ingredient since ancient times.

Up to 1.5 meters high, this plant makes a comfortable home for monarchs and other insects.

Besides the monarch butterfly, this plant is also popular as a food source for bees, ants, wasps, and others.

The hummingbird is also one of the animals who like to surround him.

  1. Swamp Milkweed (A. incarnata)

One of the few ornamentals that thrives in mucky clay soils. Prefers neutral to slightly acidic soil but will tolerate heavy clay.
Swamp milkweed

The hallmark of swamp milkweed is the thick white roots that look fleshy. Its height can reach 1-1.5 meters with leaf sizes of 7.5 cm to 15 cm.

This plant blooms in mid-summer and gives off a fragrant smell. Its appearance looks beautiful with pink to mauve colors.

Swamp milkweed produces toxic latex, making it dangerous for humans and livestock. However, this plant is one of the monarch butterflies’ favorites.

A. incarnate is a species that grows in several regions, including northeast and southeast. It will start growing in late spring.

  1. Butterfly Weed (A. tuberosa)

Butterfly weed is generally planted in late spring after the soil is warm. It is fairly slow to become established and may take as much as three years before it flowers
Butterfly weed

This plant is native to North America and has an attractive appearance thanks to its dense flowers. Not only humans but insects also like the color that lights up.

Because it produces many flowers, butterfly weed also has a lot of nectar, which is beneficial for insects and birds.

However, unlike other species, A. tuberosa only reaches 0.3 to 1 meter in height. Its appearance is similar to the other types of milkweed, namely lanceolate.

At first glance, it looks the same, but the Butterfly weed has more flowers and does not produce sap like other species.

It is from the region of Southeastern, Arizona, and Northeast. Butterfly milkweed will grow well in dry soil.

  1. Whorled Milkweed (A.verticillata)

Whorled milkweed is a single-stemmed, unbranched perennial, 1-3 ft. tall. The narrow, linear leaves are whorled along the stem.
Whorled milkweed

Its bright and beautiful flowers are one of the attractions for insects. No wonder this plant is one of the best milkweed recommendations for monarch butterflies.

However, raising whorled milkweed is tricky. It is one of the most poisonous types of milkweed, so it threatens humans and livestock.

Therefore, this variety is considered a pest. However, with efforts to preserve the monarch butterfly, this species has become a popular choice for cultivation.

  1. Arizona Milkweed (A. angustifolia)

Arizona milkweed is a southern Arizona endemic milkweed. The habitat is riparian streams at low to mid elevations.
Asclepias angustifolia

Arizona milkweed grows in the southern part of the state. In addition, it will grow well also in Mexico, Texas, and California.

This plant is durable because it can survive in a frozen environment just by dropping its leaves. However, the Arizona milkweed can also live in areas with low water content.

In general, it has characteristics like most types of milkweed. The leaves are pointed with white and pink flowers.

At first glance, it looks beautiful, but many people consider it a pest.

  1. Antelopehorn Milkweed (A. asperula)

Antelope-horns is a milkweed plant that spreads out along the ground and grows 8 to 24 inches in height.
Antelopehorn milkweed plant

Antelopehorn is also popularly known as green milkweed. The shape of the leaves is wider than other species, and the plant height is only 0.6 meters.

However, antelopehorn milkweed is a powerful species because it has a taproot that grows deep. It makes it an unbeatable plant to eradicate.

Like most other milkweeds, the antelopehorn also produces white milky sap when breaking any part of the body.

  1. Showy Milkweed (A. speciosa)

Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) is similar in form to Common Milkweed but less aggressive, making it more manageable in a garden setting.
Showy milkweed

This plant is part of the Western and California milkweed. You will find it thriving in the Sierras and Coast Ranges.

The height of this plant reaches less than 1.2 meters and has a leaf shape similar to a banana leaf. Its flowers have a unique shape similar to a starfish, with a beautiful white color.

The showy milkweed is one of the monarch butterfly’s favorite flowers. This plant produces alkaloids that serve as protective gear for caterpillars.

Caterpillars that eat alkaloids will have a not-delicious taste. Thus, predators will stay away. Also, with a strong structure, this plant makes a solid home for many insects.

  1. Mexican Whorled milkweed (A. fascicularis)

A most elegant and pleasing Milkweed species, the Mexican Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) grows throughout the West Coast and is the single most important species for Monarch butterflies in California
Narrowleaf milkweed

This species also has another name narrow-leaf, according to the shape of its needle-like leaves. Like most types of milkweed, this grower is also a herbaceous plant that can survive dry conditions.

Mexican Whorled milkweed flowers are generally greenish-white and sometimes have a purple tinge. The shape is slender so that it looks like ordinary grass at a glance.

This plant will flower from June to September. You can find it in the western region and can live in humid or dry locations.

The sap that emerges from this plant can irritate humans and animals. With its small shape, many people are accidentally-exposed to the poison.

  1. California Milkweed (A. california)

The California milkweed is a perennial herb with a unique, wooly appearance. The dull grayish-green stems and leaves are thickly covered in white hairs.
California milkweed

As the name suggests, this plant is native to the California region. The flowers are thick white and look hairy.

Meanwhile, the leaves are wide, and at first glance, like a succulent plant.

California milkweed is one of the most popular homes for monarch butterflies. The annoying flowers make it easier for insects to take nectar.

Unlike other types of milkweed, this plant produces a delicious milky sap. Kawaiisu tribes even process it into candy for daily consumption.

  1. Milkweed Desert (A. crosa)

The Desert milkweed is a distinctive shrub that develops an upright habit comprised of large numbers of many leafless blue-green stems growing 3-4 ft. tall.
Milkweed desert

One more milkweed that can also become a monarch’s home is desert-type. This plant looks like a large grass because of its slender, needle-like leaves.

This plant has yellow and white flowers of small sizes. Milkweed deserts will do well in the dry areas of Nevada, Arizona, and others.


Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) are the required host plants for caterpillars of the monarch butterfly and thus play a critical role in the monarch's life cycle
Monarch caterpillar

Milkweed can withstand many conditions, including drought. Even though it has beautiful and colorful flowers, it is a poisonous grower that threatens humans and livestock.

However, because the monarch butterfly population is decreasing, the government urges them to conserve it.

Residents began to plant some particular varieties instead of eradicating it.

Among hundreds of species, there are six types of milkweed based on their natives. However, only some of the kind has been the perfect home for monarch butterflies.

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