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How To Attract Monarch Butterflies

Updated on November 27, 2013

Monarch butterflies are one of the world's most beautiful and beloved insects, but in recent years they have come under threat from pesticides and habitat destruction in both their summer homes in the United States and Canada and their wintering grounds in Mexico. In 2012, Mexican scientists reported record low numbers of butterflies made it to their traditional overwintering grounds in the forests of Central Mexico. So far, 2013 appears to be destined for an even lower number.

One way to help save the monarch butterfly is to plant flowers and other plants that attract them. By providing both adult butterflies and caterpillars with food and shelter, you can help increase their numbers.

Host Plants

Common Milkweed. Photo by gmayfield10.
Common Milkweed. Photo by gmayfield10.

The most important plants for monarch butterflies are milkweeds (Asclepias sp.). Milkweeds are the only plants that monarch caterpillars can live on and they are therefore vital for maintaining a healthy population of monarch butterflies. Milkweed plants also provide an important nectar source for adult monarchs and many other butterfly species.

Fortunately, milkweeds are attractive and easy to grow. There are milkweed species native to every state in the continental United States and the southern Canadian provinces.

The most popular milkweeds native to North America include:

  • Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
  • Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)
  • Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
  • Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Butterflies aren't the only reason to take a second look at milkweeds. They have been receiving a lot of attention recently due to the extraordinary qualities of milkweed floss.

Nectar Plants

Nectar sources for adult monarch butterflies are also important, especially as they begin their long journey south.

Monarchs tend to prefer native wildflowers, but the adults are not as picky as the caterpillars, and some non-native species are popular as well.

Some excellent nectar plants for monarchs include:

  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)
  • Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
  • Aster (Asteraceae sp.)
  • Bee Balm/Bergamot (Monarda sp.)
  • Blazingstar/Gayfeather (Liatris sp.)
  • Cosmos (Cosmos sp.)
  • Zinnias (Zinnia sp.)
  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii)

Shelter

Monarchs like to roost in trees at night and during rainstorms and other bad weather. Most mature trees will do for this purpose, including both deciduous and conifer species.

Protecting Monarchs From Pesticides

If you intend to attract monarch butterflies to your yard, it is very important that you switch to organic gardening methods completely, or as much as possible. Monarchs are highly susceptible to most pesticides and insecticides.

If you live next to neighbors or farmers who spray regularly, you can help protect your butterfly population from pesticide drift by planting a hedgerow of trees, shrubs, grasses, and perennials on the side of your garden bordering these properties, and encouraging your neighbors to follow proper precautions to reduce pesticide drift.

Certify Your Yard

The University of Kansas's Monarch Watch program now offers backyard certification as an official Monarch Waystation! Visit the site to download an official guide to creating a monarch waystation, purchase seed packs, and more.

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    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 7 years ago from Central United States of America

      Great hub info here. I'm glad you mentioned the differences in plants for the caterpillar and butterfly - I have only learned this in the last two years. And there are places to get free or low cost seeds for both host and nectar plants too.

    • Seakay profile image

      Seakay 7 years ago from Florida

      Fascinating! We had a butterfly garden at our school. We had a few butterflies but I think the noise was often a bit much for them!

      Good hub! Thanks for the write!!

    • Varenya profile image

      Varenya 7 years ago

      Beautiful hub! I'm always in search of new and natural ways to have my garden filled with butterflies and other useful and beautiful insects; I knew about the nectar plants, but I was not aware of the host plant, I will surely plant some of them! Thanks!

    • reddog1027 profile image

      reddog1027 7 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Great hub. I always like hubs that tell me how to make my yard more wild life friendly.

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 7 years ago from Northern, California

      Beautiful flying rainbows, graceful and kind! Who wouldn't want these beauties in their yard? Cool hub.

    • DiamondRN profile image

      Bob Diamond RPh 7 years ago from Charlotte, NC USA

      I have been trying to grow milkweed in the woods adjacent to my backyard in order to attract Monarchs. No luck so far. They grew all over the place when I was a youngster. Go figure.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for your interesting hub. Although I won't get them in England, I nevertheless, enjoyed the information.

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