The monarch butterfly is probably one of the more well-known butterflies in America. Black and orange wings give it a distinctive appearance. Here an adult monarch feeds on blooms of butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa.
Every winter, monarch butterflies living west of the Mississippi River migrate to groves along the Central California Coast to spend winter. Monarch butterflies overwinter on Monterey cypress trees in Pismo Beach, California.
A monarch butterfly feeds from the blossom of the milkweed plant. Monarch butterflies use milkweed both for nectar and a place to lay their eggs. When the eggs hatch, the caterpillars can also feed on the milkweed.
Monarch butterflies lay eggs on plants in the milkweed family, including butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). Eggs hatch to reveal striped caterpillars that eat until they reach about 2 inches long. Often the first clue that a caterpillar is present on a plant is the round black frass or caterpillar poo seen on leaves.
Welcome butterflies and a host of other pollinators (including bees) by planting butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). Despite the name, this native plant doesn’t behave like a weed, taking over a garden. Plants are slow to emerge in spring, appearing long after other plants. It’s a good idea to mark its spot to avoid disturbing it. Removing spent blooms keeps the flower show going, but stop in early fall to let seeds form. Seed pods make a nice addition to fall wreaths or arrangements. This is a host plant for monarch butterflies, feeding both caterpillars and adult butterflies. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall by 1 to 2 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 4-9.
Choose plants for your meadow so that you’ll have interest in every season. For fall, native New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) bursts into floral fireworks in shades from deep-violet to lavender-pink. Stems can grow up to 6 feet high, adding towering height to a meadow. Flowers appear in autumn, providing a nectar source for migrating monarch butterflies. Hardy in Zones 3-8.
Welcome monarch butterflies with swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), a native plant that offers nectar for adult butterflies and leaves for caterpillars. Swamp milkweed grows best in full sun and thrives in boggy or moist soil. Flowers appear mid- to late summer and beckon loads of pollinators—bees, beneficial insects and hummingbirds. Give plants a spot in full sun. This low-maintenance plant makes a good choice for rain gardens, butterfly gardens or cottage borders. Deer-resistant plants grow 4 to 6 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 3-8.