Milkweed Movement

About

Milkweed plants (family Asclepiadaceae) are the only food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars. However, milkweed has severely declined in North America due to drastic changes in land use or management, like agriculture and housing developments. Milkweed losses and other stressors are associated with declines in migratory monarch butterflies over the past 20 years. 

 

To compensate for the loss of milkweed, gardeners across North America are helping monarchs by planting milkweeds, and by keeping milkweeds safe from pesticides. Native varieties are especially important and difficult to grow. In 2019, we expanded our selection to include many native varieties whose seeds were carefully prepared with cold-stratification by the local non-profit, Mustard Seed Farm & Market.

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Feed the caterpillars

Native milkweed species are in tune with monarchs’ annual migration cycle. Each spring, native milkweeds emerge from dormancy as the monarchs leave their overwintering sites (either in Mexico, for monarchs in eastern North America, or in California, for monarchs in western North America). Monarchs migrate to breeding grounds across the U.S. and into southern Canada, where females lay eggs on milkweed throughout the spring and summer. In late summer, shorter days and cooler nights signal to developing monarchs that they should delay reproduction and prepare for migration to their overwintering grounds. These same environmental cues cause native milkweeds to turn yellow and die back for the year, encouraging the monarchs to migrate.


On top of being a delightful spectacle of nature, Monarch butterflies help keep world ecosystems in balance. As Texas is a main rest stop during their migration from Mexico, the Monarch butterflies depend on local gardeners to provide milkweed host plants for their young caterpillars.

Milkweed Species

Butterfly Milkweed

Asclepias Tuberosa

Butterfly Milkweed

Voted the perennial plant of the year in 2017. These plants are great for dry, sunny areas and since they don’t have the typical messy, milky sap that milkweeds are known for they are a great choice for borders and the front of landscape beds. Once they’re established they will make lots of pretty blooming stems off each plant. Sun Exposure: Full, Partial Soil Moisture: Medium to Dry Height: 2 feet Bloom Time/Color: Summer/Orange

Green Milkweed

Asclepias Viridis

Green Milkweed

Also known as Spider Milkweed. This milkweed spreads easily once established in the garden and is tolerant of dry conditions. Seeds were collected locally. Sun Exposure: Full, Partial Soil Moisture: Medium–dry, Dry Height: 12 inches Bloom Time/Color: Early Summer/Green

Showy Milkweed

Asclepias Speciosa

Showy Milkweed

The longer, fancy petals on this milkweeds flowers are where it gets its name. This variety is more upright and a little more slender than others and would be a good fit for tighter spaces or tucked into an already established butterfly garden. Sun Exposure: Full Soil Moisture: Medium to Dry Height: 4 feet Bloom Time/Color: Mid to Late Summer/ Pink

Swamp Milkweed

Asclepias Incarnata

Swamp Milkweed

Also called Rose Milkweed, this variety smells like vanilla. It will grow best in consistently moist to wet soil. The flowers are larger and more showy than some other species, and this milkweed has one of the widest distributions throughout the US. Sun Exposure: Full, Partial Soil Moisture: Wet Height: 4 feet Bloom Time/Color: Late summer/Pink

Whorled Milkweed

Asclepias Verticillata

Whorled Milkweed

This variety establishes easily and spreads well. Large clusters of flowers top each stem when it blooms later in the year than most other kinds. Deer and rabbits will avoid it in the landscape, so it makes a great option as a perimeter plant to protect more desirable plants within a bed. Sun Exposure: Full, Partial Soil Moisture: Medium to Dry Height: 2 feet Bloom Time/Color: Early Fall/White

Common Milkweed

Asclepias Syriaca

Common Milkweed

This is one of the easiest milkweeds to grow and is a great option for first-time gardeners. It establishes and spreads easily and will return year after year. Lightly scented, it attracts a variety of pollinators and has a longer blooming period. Sun Exposure: Full, Partial Soil Moisture: Any Height: 3 feet Bloom Time/Color: Summer/Pink

Oscar Milkweed

Gomphocarpus Physocarpa

Oscar Milkweed

Also called Hairy Balls. This variety grows long stems that feed caterpillars and also make nice cut-flower arrangements. Typically the last of the perennial milkweeds to go dormant in the fall, this is a great food source for the last lingering butterflies and caterpillars each year. Sun Exposure: Full Sun to Part Shade Soil Moisture: Average Height: 4–6 ft. Bloom Time/Color: Mid to Late Summer/ White with Purple Accents

Antelope-Horns Milkweed

Asclepias Asperula

Antelope-Horns Milkweed

This is a tough variety. It has the most interesting seed pods that resemble horns, and is a low-growing species, so it is easily incorporated into landscape plantings with other butterfly plants. Sun Exposure: Full Sun Soil Moisture: Moderate w/ rocky, sandy soil Height: 1–2 ft. Bloom Time/Color: March–October/White & Green

Zizotes Milkweed

Asclepias Oenotheroides

Zizotes Milkweed

This is another tough variety found in ditches along roadsides all over the Houston area. It is extremely tolerant of poor, dry soil. The leaves of this plant develop a nice purple hue as the intensity of the sun increases. Plants are small and compact. Sun Exposure: Full Sun Soil Moisture: Dry Height: 1–2 ft. Bloom Time/Color: March–October/Green

Blue Milkweed

Tweedia Caerulea

Blue Milkweed

Not a true milkweed, or native to Texas, but is a good perennial, cold-hardy food source for hungry monarch caterpillars. Great as a fill-in for the times when there are more caterpillars than available milkweed plants to feed them. Also makes a nice decorative accent in mixed pots. Bees love it too! Sun Exposure: Full Sun to Part Shade Soil Moisture: Medium Height: 2–3 ft. (Will vine higher with support) Bloom Time/Color: Summer/Bright Blue

Aquatic Milkweed

Asclepias Perennis

Aquatic Milkweed

The white, light pink flower clusters have a delicate, lacy appearance. As the name suggests, Aquatic Milkweed prefers wet, rich soil and can be found in wetlands and swamps throughout the Southeastern United States. Great for areas in the yard or containers with poor drainage. Sun Exposure: Shade Soil Moisture: Wet Height: 1–2 ft. Bloom Time/Color: Late Spring/White

Tropical Milkweed

Asclepias Curassavica

Tropical Milkweed

Tropical milkweed is not native to the US but loves Texas weather and will grow happily with very little care. This plant will be perennial in all but the coldest winters. If not properly maintained it can become a place where diseases accumulate that disfigure and kill Monarchs. Cut back your milkweed after large populations of butterflies and caterpillars visit and cut back in the late fall to ensure that the new spring growth is disease free. Approximately 2–4 cutbacks per year. Sun Exposure: Sun Soil Moisture: Average Height: 3–4 ft. Bloom Time/Color: Spring–Fall/Red & Yellow

Planting Native Milkweed

Tropical milkweed is an excellent choice for butterfly gardening beginners. However, planting native milkweed is essential for habitat restoration and Monarch butterfly conservation. When planting and growing native milkweeds there are several important things to keep in mind. First, natives generally grow much slower than their tropical cousins.

They can take multiple seasons to establish a dense planting. It is also important to remember that their growth cycle mirrors the Monarch migration and in the fall these plants will go dormant and may look dead. Sometimes they will enter a period of dormancy to focus on root growth as well or also may be eaten all the way to the ground by hungry caterpillars. There are different varieties of native milkweeds that are adapted to various soil types and water conditions- choose wisely for your garden.

Patience is the key. With time, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful and helpful native perennial that will require very little care and return reliably year after year.

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