Monarchs and Milkweed

Monarch on Wild Asters

Monarch butterfly drinking from one of its favorite nectar plants.
Monarch butterfly drinking from one of its favorite nectar plants. | Source

Antelope Horn or Spider Milkweed

Native Antelopehorn Milkweed, Asclepias viridis
Native Antelopehorn Milkweed, Asclepias viridis | Source
Asclepias viridis seeds, ready to fly and immature orange Milkweed Bugs.
Asclepias viridis seeds, ready to fly and immature orange Milkweed Bugs. | Source

Milkweed Attracts Monarch Butterflies

If you grow a member of the Milkweed family in your garden, sooner or later Monarch Butterflies, Danaus plexippus, will appear. There are many members of the milkweed family in North America. I will focus on some of those which are native to Louisiana as well as a tropical variety that has naturalized throughout the south.

Monarch butterflies once were common, but in recent years, numbers have decreased due to habitat destruction and cold weather conditions in their wintering grounds in Mexico. Destruction of their larval food plant, the milkweed here in their breeding grounds has also contributed to the decrease.

Many people are creating butterfly gardens, with Monarchs in mind. This means they plant Asclepias spp. or some other members of the Asclepiadaceae family like the Matelea spp.

I hope to acquaint you with native southern varieties of milkweed as well as the showy tropical Mexican Milkweed. On this page you'll find plenty of pictures of Monarch butterflies, their life cycle and their larval food plant. I believe you'll find enough information so that you can plant your own Butterfly Garden.

Native Southern Milkweeds

Native Longleaf Milkweed grows in the pineland savannas of south Louisiana.
Native Longleaf Milkweed grows in the pineland savannas of south Louisiana. | Source
Asclepias longifolia seed pod.
Asclepias longifolia seed pod. | Source
Source
Angularfruit Milkvine is a native of the forest edges.
Angularfruit Milkvine is a native of the forest edges. | Source
Matelea gonocarpos seed pod opens in winter.
Matelea gonocarpos seed pod opens in winter. | Source

Native Milkweeds of Louisiana

The botanical name for the Milkweed family is Asclepiadaceae. It includes many perennial plants and vines, most of which have milky sap. The most prominent of the Asclepiadaceae family are members of the Asclepias spp., which includes both the native and tropical Butterfly Weed.

Another genus, which contains many Milkvine species is Matelea. In Louisiana, the Anglularfruit Milkvine is a common woodland Monarch host plant.

Here are my most favorite native milkweeds.

Spider Milkweed, Green Antelopehorn, Asclepias viridis

A native milkweed with attractive clusters of flowers and a very long taproot. It grows in the pine land savannas of Louisiana and the south. It grows well from seed and can grow in moist conditions.


Longleaf Milkweed, Asclepias longifolia

As the name says, this milkweed has very long leaves and a very long seed pod, too. This one also grows in the pine land savannas of the south. It's flowers are attractive enough for any garden.


Butterfly Milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa

Our native Butterfly Milkweed is drop dead gorgeous. Down here in south Louisiana, it is sometimes hard to grow because it likes it more on the dry and cool side. But for those in the mid and upper south, it really puts on a show.


Angularfruit milkvine, Matelea gonocarpos

This milkvine has heart shaped leaves and yellow star shaped flowers. The seed pod opens in late winter to disperse the seeds. It is easy to grow from seeds and does well in part shade areas which mimic woodland edges.


Tropical Milkweed

Asclepias curassavica is also called Blood Weed and Scarlet Milkweed
Asclepias curassavica is also called Blood Weed and Scarlet Milkweed | Source

Asclepias curassavica

A yellow cultivar of Asclepias curassavica.
A yellow cultivar of Asclepias curassavica. | Source
Asclepias curassavica seeds are easy to grow.
Asclepias curassavica seeds are easy to grow. | Source

Tropical Milkweed Varieties

Mexican Milkweed, Blood Weed, Scarlett Milkweed

Asclepias curassavica is an easy to grow colorful tropical milkweed that has naturalized throughout the south. The regular one has red and orange flowers and there is also a golden yellow cultivar available.

In Louisiana, it dies back during winter freezes and usually comes back in the spring.


Milkweed Seedlings

Tropical Milkweed Seedlings
Tropical Milkweed Seedlings | Source

Propagating Milkweed

It is easy to start from seed. Just gather the seed pods and remove the fluff from the seeds. Sprinkle the seeds on good soil and cover with about 1/8 inch of soil. Keep them moist during germination.

They grow fast in warm temperatures, so before you know it, you will have plenty of milkweed growing to feed the Monarch larvae of the butterflies that are moving to or from their wintering grounds.

Cuttings of the plant can be rooted in water or in hydrated soil polymers and soil. Keep the cuttings moist and in shade until they have rooted completely.

How to Plant Milkweed Seeds Video

Monarch Butterfly Poll

Have Monarch Butterfly numbers decreased in your area?

  • Yes, we used to have many more each year.
  • No, I haven't seen much of a change.
  • We never have had Monarch butterflies where I live.
See results without voting

Monarch on Purple Verbena

Homestead Verbena is a butterfly magnet.
Homestead Verbena is a butterfly magnet. | Source

Monarchs on Nectar Plants

Buddleia davidii is one of the best butterfly nectar plants.
Buddleia davidii is one of the best butterfly nectar plants. | Source
Members of the Eupatorium spp., like Mist Flower is popular with many butterflies, including Monarchs.
Members of the Eupatorium spp., like Mist Flower is popular with many butterflies, including Monarchs. | Source

Favorite Nectar Plants

Some of the favorite nectar plants for Monarchs include the following:

  • Milkweeds, Asclepias spp.
  • Asters, Aster spp.
  • Butterfly bush, Buddleia davidii
  • Sedums, Sedum spp.
  • Verbenas, Verbena spp. and hybrids
  • Ironweeds, Vernonia spp.
  • Ham and Eggs and other Lantana spp.

Monarch Butterfly on Lantana

Many Butterflies love Lantana.
Many Butterflies love Lantana. | Source

Caterpillar to Chrysalis

Small caterpillar begins to eat milkweed.
Small caterpillar begins to eat milkweed. | Source
Monarch Chrysalis
Monarch Chrysalis | Source

Monarch Butterfly

Like any butterfly, the metamorphosis from larvae to butterfly is a magical process. The chrysalis of the monarch is especially beautiful and jewel like and the striped caterpillars are also quite attractive. It begins with a tiny egg and then a tiny caterpillar grows and turns into a creature of such beauty.

Here in south Louisiana, we only see a couple of Monarchs in the spring. This year we had some caterpillars in April, but I didn't see them change into a chrysalis.

Traditionally, August and September are the months when we see many Monarchs as they make their way back down from the north, laying eggs and then moving on. My milkweed is usually big and tall by then, ready to feed the hungry caterpillars.

The video below is wonderful. It shows a time lapse of the metamorphosis, with text explaining each step. I hope you enjoy it.

Life Cycle of the Monarch Butterfly

Amazing Monarch Migration Video

More by this Author


Tell us about your Monarchs. 3 comments

moonlake profile image

moonlake 5 years ago from America

We have common milkweed in our meadow and the Monarchs hang out there. I never seem to chrysalis. I make sure to check as soon as my friend says she sees them at her house but I never find them. Maybe they don't like our milkweed. Enjoyed your hub good information.


naturegirl7 profile image

naturegirl7 5 years ago from South Louisiana Author

In all the years that I've been observing Monarchs, I have only found chrysalises a couple of times. One was hard to miss, right on the top of the window frame. Sadly, it didn't result in a butterfly.

They usually crawl several feet away from their host plant to form the chrysalis.


mary615 profile image

mary615 5 years ago from Florida

As a lover of the beautiful Butterfly, I really enjoyed reading this Hub. I grow Milkweed for the Monarchs. I did not know you could propagate from seeds or make cuttings. I guess when my seeds hit the ground, they self propagate because they are always popping up, thank goodness. I invite you to read the Hub I just did on "The Beautiful Insect: The Butterfly. Thanks for this info.

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