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Three Common types of Milkweed for Monarch Butterflies in Zone 6

Three Common types of Milkweed for Monarch Butterflies in Zone 6

Milkweed is the life-giving plant for Monarchs – it is their sole host plant. The female lays her eggs on it, the caterpillars feed on it and it also serves as a nectar plant for the Monarch and many other pollinators.

There are about 100 types of Milkweed that are native to the United States, but Monarchs will only utilize about 30 of them. Depending on where you live and your hardiness zone, there may be limited choices. Every state has more than one hardiness zone due to climate variations and conditions.

In Zone 6, which covers 38 states from New Jersey to Alaska, and Canada, there are several perennial varieties that are found naturally. Check your local garden center or online for more plants and Milkweed seeds. Be certain they are free from any pesticides and herbacides! Providing clean pesticide-free Milkweed is crucial to the Saving the Monarch Butterfly movement!

Here are three common varities plus a bonus!

monarch on Common Milkweed

1. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Common Milkweeed is what most people think of first; a tall variety with large and fragrant pink flower clusters. This species is best at colonizing; it can be found in fields and pastures, roadsides, ditches and marsh borders. I have found the most caterpillars on Common Milkweed.

When you break the stem or a leaf, a white sappy liquid emerges – Milkweed contains toxins (cardiac glycosides or cardenolides) that can be harmful to pets, livestock and people if consumed in large quantities. Another reminder to Wash Your Hands! After handling milkweed, clean up any spillage that may occur, before touching your pet (or your face!).
monarch caterpillar on Common Milkweed

Growing Common Milkweed

The root is a rhizome, a large taproot, that does not tolerate transplanting well. Therefore, it is best to grow from seed or some cases, very young plants. Call me lazy, but I have had success only by gathering seed pods (follicle) in the the late summer / early fall and planting the entire pod in the ground. By the following spring, over 50 plants have become well-established.

Good, Bad and Ugly

Many other insects are attracted to Common Milkweed, including the Bumble Bee (Bombus), Milkweed Beetle, other moths and butterflies. However, Aphids, (Oleander Aphids) are a Pest that left undisturbed, will destroy your milkweed, not to mention other plants. They are very common. Two of the best ways to get rid of them naturally is by killing – wear a plastic glove and squish them off the plant (don’t squish the plant!) and clean it with a burst of spray water. Ladybugs also feed on Aphids – you can order them online and they are super-fun to release!

Usually by August, they plant has suffered from insects and heat. It turns yellow (or worse!) and falls over – pretty ugly. At this stage, I begin to remove most of the plant – cut it down to ground-level. I have had no problem with plants re-emerging the following year!

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed

2. Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Swamp milkweed is a wetland plant but will grow well in medium moist conditions once established. It is an attractive plant with long-lasting pink blooms adored by many pollinators. It does not suffer from the same degree of Aphid infestation like the Common Milkweed, in my experience.

Growing Swamp Milkweed

It grows easily from seed – I have had success with this plant! I have sowed it outdoors in Fall / Winter by sowing the seeds in soil. Have also cold stratified (refrigerate over winter) before starting indoors in the Spring.

Swamp milkweed is well behaved in the garden – it is not invasive as some other milkweeds are. It does get quite large; some gentle support may be needed.


Swamp milkweed is a long-lasting cut flower, at least until it is munched up by caterpillars. It does not wilt as easily as Common and it is a highly recommended addition to your garden!

3. Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Butterfly weed is a cheery bright orange (or yellow) flower that blooms for about two weeks. In my experience, Monarchs prefer other milkweed plants first. It is a valuable nectar plant for Monarchs and other pollenators and is usually readily available at the garden center. They will use it to lay eggs and feed upon, just not as common in my experience.

Butterfly Weed
Image by James DeMers at Pixabay
Once it is well established, it very dependable and well behaved in the garden. Like many other Milkweeds, Asclepias tuberosa produces a strong taproot which is difficult to transplant but also tough and tolerant in dry conditions.


Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica)

In Zone 6, Tropical milkweed is a beautiful multi-colored ANNUAL plant and may just be Monarch’s favorite milkweed. It grows and flowers quickly and easily all summer. It also dies at the end of the season.

Honeybee on Tropical Milkweed
The problem is that Tropical Milkweed is NOT NATIVE to the US. It has been naturalized in zones 9-11 (and possibly 8b) where it grows as a perennial. In these temperate zones, it does not die back in the winter. Therefore, parasites of the Monarch, “OE” (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha) can travel with Monarchs and the plants they visit. Newly hatched caterpillars eat these plants and ingest the OE. Lower migration success, stemming from developmental issues, are a result of high OE levels in adult Monarchs. Because Tropical Milkweed remains evergreen through winter, OE levels build on the plant over time. Therefore, future generations of monarch caterpillars feeding on the plant can be exposed to dangerous levels of OE.
Always plant NATIVE species to your zone, or grow as an annual.
Monarch Butterfly drying wings on Swamp Milkweed

In Summary, there are several types of milkweed that you can grow in your garden, get from your local garden center, or find it naturally at a park. Just make sure you have a steady supply as you find more caterpillars!

Want to learn more about Monarch Butterflies?  Check out TOP TIPS for Raising Monarch Butterflies!

TOP Tips for Raising Monarch Butterflies (in Zone 6)

TOP Tips for Raising Monarch Butterflies (in Zone 6)

Monarch Butterflies are one of our most treasured – and threatened – butterflies.  The following outlines TOP Tips for raising Monarch Butterflies, particularly in Zone 6, based on natural Milkweed supply.

Migrating over 3000 miles to begin their beautiful and fascinating lifecycle, it is critical to help the Monarchs in any way we can. The use of pestisides on crops and in landscaping have led to a massive decline in the host plant, the Milkweed.  

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus Plexippus) is a milkweed butterfly, meaning it MUST have milkweed to lay eggs, eat, and use the nectar from the milkweed plant. In striking orange, black and white patterns, some consider it the MOST beautiful butterfly, perhaps the King of Butterflies, rightfully earning the name “Monarch”.


With that being said, you must be able to secure an abundance of pesticide-free Milkweed plants.  You can grow your own, make sure your local nursery stocks it and / or have the ability to get it from parks (usually in marsh areas).







The Monarch transitions into four life cycles: egg, larvae, pupa and adult butterfly. The larvae voraciously feed on the Milkweed leaves, completing 5 “instars”, which develop from larvae to adulthood and grow larger, almost doubling in size, in each stage. 





The female Monarch will lay her eggs on flowering Milkweed. The eggs are tiny and white. Admittingly, I have a hard time finding the eggs, but I have a weird belief system that I really need to SEE the caterpillar in order to take it in – I feel like it has a more natural way to be born and start developing, rather than begin from the eggs.




The Instar stage grows as follows:

  • 1st instar, 2-6 mm
  • 2nd instar, 6-9 mm
  • 3rd instar, 10-14 mm
  • 4th instar, 13-25 mm
  • 5th instar, 25-45 mm

During the pupal stage the transformation from larva to adult is completed, which takes about 10 days to 2 weeks, depending on conditions: Warmer and humid weather tends to speed up the process.

When the adult caterpillar is ready to enter the next stage, it forms a silk button which it will hang from in a “J” position. Usually within 24 hours, the J will transform into the pupa or Chrysalis. You will know it will transform soon because it will hang almost nearly straight and the antennae will look twisted.

When I find the caterpillars, I place them in pop-up tents with fresh milkweed. I really like the tent because you can easily access what you need and it is easy to freshen up and clean. It also has one clear side panel. Bonus – most of the caterpillars end up forming a “J” and Chrysalis in the tent (they may also form on milkweed branches). Finally, they clean up great with some spray bleach and water solution.

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When it is ready to “go” or transform from caterpillar to chrysalis, it needs to shed its skin for the fifth and final time. The skin will actually split from the head and it will wriggle around in a circular pattern for a few minutes until all of the skin falls off. It’s pretty wild. The chrysalis is an amazing shade of jade flecked with gold specks. As with the caterpillar stages, the chrysalis remains for 10 – 14 days, depending on the weather and humidity. Do not touch the chrysalis while it is still soft – it will most certainly damage the butterfly.

Chrysalis and 5-Stage Cat


You CAN handle the chrysalis if necessary. WHY? You may need to move it to a better location AFTER about 24 hours. Sometimes it forms it’s button on a weak stem, near too many others (when you’re really lucky!) or in some other precarious situation. The best way to relocate it is to CAREFULLY get all the silk and use a needle and thread to attach the uppermost parts of the silk button to it’s next home.


When the Monarch is about to eclose, or emerge from the chrysalis and become a butterfly, the green chrysalis will turn opaque to clear, where the iconic orange and black patterns of the Monarch are visibile. When it’s ready to go, the shell will split, the body will begin to fall, followed by the wings.

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Monarch Butterfly drying wings on Swamp Milkweed


After the Monarch has emerged or eclosed, it will need to dry it’s wings, usually for a couple/few hours. Especially in the first few minutes, the wings need to form and shed all moisture. Let it do it’s thing with room to move it’s wings around and form properly.

When it is flapping it’s wings and starting to move around, it is ready to fly! You can let it attach to your finger and release it. After takeoff, it usually makes a few circles around and lands nearby for a few minutes. It is a wonderful sight to see and incredibly fun, happy, joyful, satisfying.


monarch butterfly drying wings green

In Summary, witnessing the amazing stages of the Monarch Butterfly are incredibly humbling. From first discovering a tiny caterpillar or egg, to watching it pupate into a Chrysalis, and finally emerge (eclose) into a beautiful butterfly, it is totally worth the time and effort.

If you have been fortunate to see it through all states, congratulations and Thank You for helping this great movement of Saving the Monarchs!

Want to learn more about Milkweed for Monarchs? Check out the post about Common Milkweed for Monarchs!

Looking for great images of Monarchs?  Here’s a few of my other photos available in a variety of print sizes and styles, stickers, mugs, tops, and much more.  Fulfilled by Redbubble:

Male Monarch on Sunflower with BumbleBee
monarch chrysalis on swamp milkweed yellow flowers
male monarch on sunflower
monarch chrysalis in green stage

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