Milkweeds for Monarchs

monarch1Are you ready to welcome butterflies? Monarch populations are doing better, but they could still use some help! Try planting milkweed this year and be rewarded with monarchs and more. Their showy flower clusters also attract moths, skippers, bees, and beneficial wasps. Set your landscape to buzzing with milkweed!

In general, milkweeds are prairie plants, so plan on them putting on a show in summer, when butterflies are most prevalent. Look for monarch eggs and larvae and be tolerant of damaged foliage as the caterpillars feed. Reduce or eliminate pesticides and herbicides when you are planting for pollinators. There are several species of milkweed native to Illinois. We’ve chosen five favorites that will take root and thrive in full sun.

Asclepias incarnata or swamp milkweed

As you might guess from its common name, swamp milkweed can thrive in moist soils, but it will happily grow in average soil, too. Reaching about four feet high, it makes a good weaver plant in a garden bed as it tends to send up a single stem or a small cluster. Swamp milkweed flowers are deep rose in color and are held in a flat cluster beginning in August and blooming through September.

Asclepias sullivantii or prairie milkweed

Prairie milkweed is a shorter, stouter, less aggressive cousin to common milkweed at about three feet high. It boasts bright pink globular flower clusters held upright near the top of the stem. Lightly fragrant, it blooms June through August. Tolerates a wide range of medium moist garden soils. Named for William Starling Sullivant, a 19th century American botanist, prairie milkweed features smooth seed pods for winter interest.

Asclepias syriaca or common milkweed

A classic prairie plant and often found along roadsides, common milkweed can reach up to five feet high. Its hanging clusters of deeply fragrant lavender flowers bloom June through August. Tolerant of a variety of soils and light shade, common milkweed can spread readily from seed or rhizomes. The dried seed pods are valued for winter arrangements.

Asclepias tuberosa or butterflyweed

Butterflyweed is a showstopper in the landscape. Brilliant orange flowers bloom atop two foot clumps of bright green foliage from June through August. This milkweed requires sharply drained soils and will not tolerate heavy mulch or wet sites. Combine with Echinacea pallida for a striking contrast of vibrant color.  Enjoy its slender seed pods in winter.

Asclepias verticillata or whorled milkweed

Whorled milkweed is a lovely addition to any garden. It’s delicate, needle-like foliage reaches between one and two feet high and weaves through other plants. Small clusters of creamy white flowers bloom June through September. Plant this where you can enjoy its subtle beauty.