Monarch Butterflies Need Milkweed

Milkweed is a Host Plant for Monarch Caterpillars

Watching the transformation of a Monarch caterpillar into an adult butterfly is one of the most amazing sights I have ever observed in my life.  I can't believe that it took me until my late twenties to witness this magical transformation and journey of the Monarch caterpillar to an adult butterfly. 

With the information below, I hope that you to will experience the magic of metamorphosis first hand in your own backyard. 

To start you will need to plant milkweed

Some Background on Milkweed Issues:

Throughout the entire East Coast of the United States numerous varieties of Milkweed grow wild/native.  Many of these plants have been eradicated because of the toxins that are in their stems (the white milky substance contains the toxins).  These plants can grow in hay fields and when harvested can cause a cow to have a tummy ache!  As a result, many areas have removed large areas of milkweed from growing wild.  Thus hurting the future populations of the Magnificent Monarch butterfly because the Monarch relies solely on laying eggs on Milkweed plants and no other plant will suffice!  Save Monarchs plant milkweed! 

Types of Milkweed:

There are numerous types, I will be talking about 3 types  that I have raised myself in the New Jersey and Pennsylvania area for the purpose of building native habitats for butterflies in my school garden and my home garden. 

Type 1:  Common Milkweed- (Asclepias syriaca) 

  • In my experience grows 4-6 feet if not maintained. 
  • Large leaves
  • Clay soil, garden bed, rocky soil, it is a hardy plant that tolerated full sun
  • It produces quite fragrant purplish blooms that are round in shape
  • Also attracts many bees, butterflies, and the ruby-throated hummingbird.
  • In fall large seed pods open an scatter seeds (you can collect and scatter yourself!)
  • I have not found this plant to purchase in any garden center, even native plant wholesellers- I actually located a patch on a roadside and dug up the taproot and transplanted the one plant that has now multiplied to 25 plants. 

Type 2:  Swamp Milkweed- (Asclepias incarnata)

  • In my experience grows roughly 3 -4 feet
  • Slender pointed leaves
  • It can grow in a swampy area well, I grow it s  a partially sunny garden, with normal soil drainage and my plant do fine
  • Fragrant pink (called Cinderella Mix)or white blooms (called ice ballet)
  • Attracts bees butterflies, & ruby-throated hummingbirds,
  • August/September- slender seed pod forms- you can scatter
  • Purchased at native plant sales and whole sale garden centers- I called around to ask

Type 3:  Butterfly Weed- (Asclepias tuberosa)

  • In my experience grows about 1 1/2 to 2 feet
  • thick, hardy, hairy feeling, stout leaves
  • Tolerates drought conditions and actually prefers poor soil, loves the sun!
  • Vibrant orange blooms (it can be found in yellow too, in some garden stores!)
  • Attracts bees, butterflies, & ruby-throated hummingbirds 
  • Blooms late May through summer (most places say late summer blooming, I disagree because I have some that blooms some years early May)
  • The easiest of the 3 types to get for your garden- more commonly known as butterfly weed or orange milkweed

Plant these milkweed plants amongst other butterfly attracting flowers (such as: zinnias, lantana, petunias, marigolds, sunflowers, butterfly bush).  Start looking in June/July for an orange/black butterfly frequenting your garden.  Then inspect the undersides of milkweed leaves for white, black, and yellow banded caterpillars.  In a month's time that caterpillar will transform into a Monach butterfly.  Bring the caterpillar indoors, with some milkweed and place in a tall take-out clear plastic style container.  Keep watching and hopefully, you will find a green chrysalis formed between 7-14 days.  Once that chrysalis turns transparent and you see orange and black- it will hatch into its adult form.  Then release outdoors to continue the life cycle!  

Please respond with any questions you have and look for additional articles by me (butterfly teacher) on raising Monarchs or other butterflies.  (I release between 250-400 Monarchs each  year!)

Happy Planting Native Milkweed! 




Male Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly on Cosmos Plant

Common Milkweed

Common Milkweed
Credit: me (butterfly teacher)

Monarch Chrysalids

Monarch Chrysalids

Common Milkweed Growing

Common Milkweed Growing

Swamp Milkweed Seed Pods with Milkweed Beetles

Swamp Milkweed Seed Pod
Credit: me (butterfly teacher)