Milkweed For Monarchs!

Pretty and striped, Monarch caterpillars eat various species of milkweed, so plant lots of it to entice this butterfly to your garden.

milkweed

Photo: Marshal Hedin / Jacopo Werther (Wikimedia commons)

Monarch caterpillar on Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed).

Monarch butterflies enjoy nectar from a variety of flowers. However, their caterpillars can feed only on milkweed (Asclepias). So if you plant some now in your yard, you will see the pretty striped caterpillars feeding on it by midsummer.

Milkweed is the common name for Asclepias because plants in this genus have a milky sap. The most familiar species is A. tuberosa, hardy in zones 3 to 9, that grows three feet tall and has orange flowers. It is native to the U.S., as is swamp milkweed (A.incarnata), hardy zones 2 to 9. It has pink flowers and grows up to four feet.

There is also a tropical species known as scarlet milkweed that is hardy only in zone 9. In cold climates it can be grown as an annual, as it is especially showy as well as being irresistible to monarchs and their caterpillars.

There are four stages in the life cycle of a butterfly: the egg, the caterpillar or larva, the chrysalis or pupa and the adult butterfly. However, only the caterpillar and adult butterfly actually eat. The monarch caterpillars eat various species of milkweed, and because it has a bitter taste it makes the caterpillars unappetizing to birds and other predators.

So plant lots of milkweed, as it makes the monarch caterpillars happy and safer in your garden!

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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