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Types of Milkweed

By: Jennifer HowellJennifer Howell
Plant these types of milkweed to support monarch butterflies.

Collage of different types of milkweed flowers: Photos courtesy of Prairie Moon Nursery (whorled milkweed); John D. Byrd, Mississippi State University, Bugwood.org (green milkweed); Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org (antelope horns); D.L. Cook (California milkweed)

Types of milkweed to support monarch butterflies

It’s best to grow a milkweed that is native to your area so monarch butterflies that visit find the habitat to which they are accustomed. You can grow other species, but the natives are suited to your region. Most milkweeds grow best in full sun, but they will tolerate some shade. With the exception of swamp milkweed, which prefers moist, rich soil, milkweed species will thrive in poor, dry soils and disturbed areas, fields, and ditches. Also keep in mind that milkweed plants have some toxicity — so keep them out of places where livestock may graze and don’t let pets or children chew on them.

Milkweed is a host plant for monarch caterpillars

Though adult monarch butterflies sip nectar from many flowers, monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed plants, specifically those in the genus Asclepias. Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants so their larvae, or caterpillars, have an instant food source once the eggs hatch. Chemicals in the milkweed are ingested by the caterpillars which are toxic to other animals, helping protect them from predators. Caterpillars and adult butterflies are also brightly colored, a natural warning that this insect is toxic.

Where to buy native milkweed seeds & plants

The Xerces Society can help you find a seed source in your area. Visit their Milkweed Seed Finder here for more information.

Butterfly weed: The bright orange blooms on butterfly milkweed are pleasing for gardeners and butterflies alike!

How to keep milkweed from taking over your garden

Many people consider milkweed a weed, but go ahead and plant those pretty “weeds.” The monarchs will thank you. However, if you are worried about these plants spreading too much or your neighbors complain, there are a few things you can do:

Contain milkweed rhizomes

Since milkweeds multiply through underground rhizomes and by seed, keep a small milkweed clump contained by sinking 12- to 18-inch plastic or metal edging into the ground around the plants. Or periodically spade into the ground around the base of the plants and remove any wandering rhizomes from the soil.

Remove seed pods

You'll also want to cut green seed pods off so they can’t produce seed. It won’t bother the monarchs — they feed on leaves and stems as caterpillars and nectar as adults, so they won’t even notice the pods are gone!

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US Map divided into regions: Find your region on this map and look at the types of milkweed in the gallery to find out which one is native to your area.

Find the right type of milkweed to grow in your region

Here is a list of 8 native milkweeds and regions they are found across the contiguous United States and Canada. Find your region on this map, then look for one or more that you can grow in your area. For more regional information about milkweed, visit the Xerces Society website.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Type Perennial Blooms Fragrant pink flower clusters in June through August Light Full sun Soil Moist, well-drained Size 2 to 4 ft. tall, 1 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Native regions NE, SE, SK, MB, ON, QC

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Type Perennial Blooms Bright orange flower clusters bloom June to September on top of rough, thin textured leaves; a yellow cultivar is available Light: Full sun; drought tolerant Size: 1 to 3 ft. tall, 1 to 2 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9 

Native regions: NE, SC, SE

Antelope-horns milkweed (Asclepias asperula)

Antelope-horns milkweed (Asclepias asperula)

Type Perennial Blooms: Green-yellow flowers tinged with maroon give way to seed pods that curve to resemble antelope horns from March to October Light Full sun Soil Dry, sandy soil Size 1 to 2 ft. tall, 2 to 3 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 10 

Native regions: CA, SC

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)

Type Perennial Blooms Pink flowers at the top of the stem and in leaf axils bloom from May to September Light Full sun Soil Moist, well-drained soil Size 2 to 4 ft. tall, 1 to 2 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9 

Native regions CA, W, SC, BC, AB, SK

Green milkweed (Asclepias viridis)

Green milkweed (Asclepias viridis)

Type Perennial Blooms White to green flower clusters bloom May to August Light Full sun Soil Moist to dry soil Size 18 to 24 in. tall, 12 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9 

Native regions SC, SE

Whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)

Whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)

Type Perennial Blooms White flower clusters atop stems of whorled, narrow leaves bloom May to September Light Full sun to part shade Soil Dry soil Size 1 to 3 ft. tall, 1 to 2 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9

Native regions NE, SE, SK, ON, MB

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Type Perennial Blooms Deep, rose-pink flowers bloom June to October on narrow-leaved, branching stems Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist to wet soil Size 3 to 5 ft. tall, 2 to 3 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 6

Native regions NE, SC, W, MB, ON, QC

California milkweed (Asclepias californica)

California milkweed (Asclepias californica)

Type Perennial Blooms Purple flowers bloom May to July on white, woolly foliage Light Full sun Soil Dry soil Size 3 to 4 ft. tall, 1 to 5 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 7 to 9

Native Regions CA

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Type Perennial Blooms Fragrant pink flower clusters in June through August Light Full sun Soil Moist, well-drained Size 2 to 4 ft. tall, 1 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Native regions NE, SE, SK, MB, ON, QC

Green milkweed (Asclepias viridis)

Green milkweed (Asclepias viridis)

Type Perennial Blooms White to green flower clusters bloom May to August Light Full sun Soil Moist to dry soil Size 18 to 24 in. tall, 12 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9 

Native regions SC, SE

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Type Perennial Blooms Bright orange flower clusters bloom June to September on top of rough, thin textured leaves; a yellow cultivar is available Light: Full sun; drought tolerant Size: 1 to 3 ft. tall, 1 to 2 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9 

Native regions: NE, SC, SE

Whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)

Whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)

Type Perennial Blooms White flower clusters atop stems of whorled, narrow leaves bloom May to September Light Full sun to part shade Soil Dry soil Size 1 to 3 ft. tall, 1 to 2 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9

Native regions NE, SE, SK, ON, MB

Antelope-horns milkweed (Asclepias asperula)

Antelope-horns milkweed (Asclepias asperula)

Type Perennial Blooms: Green-yellow flowers tinged with maroon give way to seed pods that curve to resemble antelope horns from March to October Light Full sun Soil Dry, sandy soil Size 1 to 2 ft. tall, 2 to 3 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 10 

Native regions: CA, SC

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Type Perennial Blooms Deep, rose-pink flowers bloom June to October on narrow-leaved, branching stems Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist to wet soil Size 3 to 5 ft. tall, 2 to 3 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 6

Native regions NE, SC, W, MB, ON, QC

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)

Type Perennial Blooms Pink flowers at the top of the stem and in leaf axils bloom from May to September Light Full sun Soil Moist, well-drained soil Size 2 to 4 ft. tall, 1 to 2 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9 

Native regions CA, W, SC, BC, AB, SK

California milkweed (Asclepias californica)

California milkweed (Asclepias californica)

Type Perennial Blooms Purple flowers bloom May to July on white, woolly foliage Light Full sun Soil Dry soil Size 3 to 4 ft. tall, 1 to 5 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 7 to 9

Native Regions CA

Published: Aug. 15, 2022
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