How to attract monarch butterflies

Q: I want more common milkweed, but I also want other options. Something that doesn’t spread as bad, but is good for the monarchs.

­– Sally from Boardman

A: Monarch butterflies are quite beautiful and provide an opportunity for us to connect plant species to insects – the need for diversity within the landscape that exists in nature. Most butterflies can get nectar from many different plants, but most have very specific requirements for their larvae.

While it does spread, common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is an option for more open areas. Consider planting it in the back corner of your property, as it will indeed take over your traditional flower beds. It is a common plant along roadsides throughout Ohio. It is a perennial plant, growing up to 6 feet tall. Most of us recognize it as a 2- to 4-foot-tall plant along the road. It is quite straight and tall, with opposite, oval leaves. If you break off a leaf or stem, you’ll notice the milky sap from which the plant most likely got its name.

The flowers are fuzzy, purplish-pink and bloom in ball-like clusters near the top of the plant. As they fade, you’ll notice the large long-pointed pods. You most likely don’t even think of them until you see the white fuzz flying out of the pods, dispersing seeds throughout the area.

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberose) is another common plant on the roadsides with beautiful orange flowers. It is usually about 2 feet tall in a garden. Flowers can bloom through most of the summer especially if you cut the back. It does not transplant well.

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnate) is a tall 3- to 4-foot-tall plant which branches at the top. Flowers are purple and pink, blooming later in July and August. As the name suggests, it likes wetter locations, so it’s good for rain garden areas. The leaves are uniquely thin and even have a purplish color.

In addition to milkweed, there are other plants you can have in your garden to attract and support monarchs. Our experts at Ohio State say that butterfly weed, joe-pye weed, goldenrod, asters, and blazing star are all plants which support the adult monarchs with nectar. But, milkweed is the only plant that supports the monarch larvae.

Learn more about milkweed by visiting http://go.osu.edu/growmilkweed

Pictures and descriptions of common milkweed are found by visiting http://go.osu.edu/commonmilkweed

Find types of plants to attract specific butterflies in Ohio at http://go.osu.edu/butterflygardens

Eric Barrett is OSU Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources in Mahoning County. The plant and pest clinic is open Mondays and Thursdays from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. at the OSU Extension Office in Canfield. Details at http://go.osu.edu/mahoningclinic


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