7 Reasons to Grow Butterfly Milkweed

I planted butterfly milkweed in my garden to attract Monarch butterflies, but then I found out there’s so much more to love about these plants! Yes, it’s a joy to spot colorful butterflies and caterpillars among my milkweed, but I was amazed by all the other benefits these plants have. I bet you will be, too.

Grow butterfly milkweed
Beautiful bright orange Butterfly weed, a milkweed and main foodplant for Monarch butterfly caterpillars

1. Save the Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterflies are in danger of extinction. These butterflies rely on milkweed for their survival. So, by planting butterfly milkweed in your garden, you can help save butterflies for years to come.

Monarchs lay their eggs almost exclusively on milkweed plants. As their caterpillars eat the slightly toxic milkweed leaves, they become poisonous. Birds will avoid eating the caterpillars and adult butterflies because of this toxic taste.

Without milkweed plants available, Monarch butterflies don’t have a breeding ground or protective toxins. They will fail to reproduce and be devoured by predators.

2. Eliminate Pest Insects

Milkweed brings the insects you want in your garden. The species that make their home in the leaves of butterfly milkweed eat stinkbugs, aphids, thrips, and ticks. So, you’ll eliminate pests by growing milkweed.

Garden mantis drawn by native flowers like butterfly weed.
One of my garden mantises—this one ventured into the open for a photo.

Praying mantises and small wasps are drawn to butterfly milkweed. Then, they start hunting harmful bugs. This creates a no-pest zone in your garden. Say goodbye to aphids on your tomato plants and flowers!

I love spotting praying mantises in my milkweed plants. A single praying mantis can eat up to 15 ticks each day. Now, I can tend my garden during tick season without worry.

3. Enjoy the Long Flowering Season

Butterfly milkweed flowers are long-lasting, so they provide constant beauty for your garden. The brilliant orange flowers begin blooming in spring and can last into late summer. When other flowers have shed their blooms and begun to look drab, butterfly milkweed still keeps your garden looking vibrant.

Butterfly milkweed plants grown from seed may not flower until their second or third year. If you don’t want to wait that long, purchase butterfly milkweed from a garden center or nursery. This way, you can enjoy the blooms starting from year one.

When purchasing your plants, make sure the plant is true butterfly milkweed. Keep reading to find out why this is so important.

4. Feed Honeybees

Butterflies aren’t the only animals that feed on the pollen of butterfly milkweed flowers. Honeybees and bumblebees are also drawn to the blooms. Since milkweed blooms for such a long time, the flowers provide a reliable food source for pollinators.

I love to grow flowers with long blooming seasons for their appearance and to attract pollinators. Butterfly milkweed does both of these things. Plus, it saves butterfly species and keeps away pests. I can’t imagine NOT growing these flowers.

5. Add Height to Your Garden

When I first began gardening, I had the distinct feeling that my flower display was very unimpressive. My petunias were only a few inches tall. Nothing I grew really caught your eye…until I planted butterfly milkweed.

Now, my milkweed plants are almost three feet tall. With their height and bunches of bright orange flowers, they add a lot of vibrance to my garden.

If you’re growing shorter flowering plants in your garden, it’s a great idea to plant butterfly milkweed behind them. This way, you’ll get to see the milkweed flowering in the back row while the smaller flowers flourish just in front. It gives your garden a color-packed look.

6. There’s No Substitute for Butterfly Milkweed

There are many species of milkweed, but some can actually be harmful if planted in the United States. Tropical milkweed is a popular choice, but growing it in your garden is a huge mistake.

Tropical milkweed naturally grows in southern climates such as Mexico, where monarch butterflies migrate to each year. If you grow tropical milkweed in your garden, the monarchs that are drawn to it may be tricked into thinking they are already in warm regions. They will not migrate south. Then, winter cold will kill the butterflies.

To prevent accidentally killing butterflies, always plant native milkweed species, such as butterfly milkweed.

7. Preserve a Native Plant

Due to habitat loss and the introduction of invasive species, it is much harder to find true butterfly milkweed growing wild. Losing this native species would rob us of a plant that can be used to make textiles and medicine. So, save butterfly milkweed by growing it yourself.

The fibers of butterfly milkweed are ultra-absorbent and have been used to clean up oil spills. Plus, indigenous people in the Americas used the roots as a treatment for stomach pains and cramps.

Since this plant has so much to offer, preserving the species in our gardens is the right thing to do.

Butterfly Milkweed is Safe to Grow

The same toxins that make butterfly milkweed essential to the monarch butterfly life cycle also mean we should be careful where we grow this plant. Butterfly milkweed leaves and stems are toxic to pets and humans if eaten. So, grow it where dogs, cats, or small children can’t reach the plant.

If your backyard is a play area for pets and children, grow milkweed in your front flower beds instead. This way, you enjoy the benefits of this plant without the risks.

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