4 Milkweed Plant Species That Attract Monarch Butterflies
By Lori A. Johnson
• Perennial • Spring-late summer blooms; white • 18″-36″H by 12″-24″W • Well-drained rocky soil • Zones 8B-10A • Full to partial sun • Low water; low maintenance • Attracts bees, birds, butterflies
Clusters of individual tiny white blossoms (approximately one-eighth of an inch in diameter) have a pink to lavender tinge that makes for a lovely, delicate appearance that contrasts with brightly colored nectar plants typically planted in butterfly gardens.
Why we like it: A native milkweed found only in southern Arizona, this species is typically found in riparian woodland, mountain and canyon habitats. “I love it because the butterflies like it,” Pegram tells us. “Monarchs and their caterpillars prefer this one over other native species.”
• Perennial n Spring-fall blooms; white • 24″-48″H by 24″-36″W • Well-drained soil • Zones 9A-11B • Full to partial sun • Low water; low maintenance • Attracts bees, butterflies and insects
Native to the Southwest, this milkweed species is so named due its narrow pine needlelike leaves, though they are much softer. In addition to butterflies, a variety of other pollinating insects also feed on the nectar of the small creamy-white flower clusters with their long blooming season.
Why we like it: “Our research shows this one is not a great milkweed for monarchs, but it is beloved by bees, especially honeybees,” Pegram says, adding, “we need to support all of our pollinators.”
• Perennial • Spring-summer blooms; creamy white • 24″-48″H by 36″-48″W • Well-drained, sandy soil • Zones 9-11 • Full sun • Low water; low maintenance n Attracts bees, butterflies and insects
Also called rush milkweed, this species is native to Arizona, Nevada and California and is host to monarch and queen butterflies. It’s also a nectar source for a variety of pollinating insects. The stems leaf out only after a rain and are bare the rest of the time, with clusters of tiny, yellow-tinged white flowers at the tips.
Why we like it: “This is the classic native milkweed that most will know, common in landscapes,” Pegram says. “The reason I like them is the nectar is a favorite of the beautiful blue and orange tarantula hawks.”
Giant Sand Milkweed
• Perennial • Spring-summer blooms; yellow-white • 24″-48″H by 24″-36″W • Well-drained, sandy soil • Zones 4A-10B • Full sun • Low water; low maintenance • Attracts butterflies
Also called desert milkweed, yellowish-white flowers characterize this species the gray-green leaves of which are often covered in fine cream-colored hair. Like all milkweeds, it contains a milky sap. Native Americans in its desert and Baja habitats were known to boil the latex until hard and use as a chewing gum.
Why we like it: “This species is so unique for our desert environment, with very large leaves and seed pods that resemble the milkweeds from the East and Midwest. They are incredibly hardy, regularly growing along roadsides in the Mojave Desert,” Pegram says.