By Missouri Botanical Garden Home Garden Center
Q • Because the monarch butterfly is now listed as an endangered species, what plants can I grow in my garden to provide habitat for them?
A • To create a habitat in your garden that will attract and support monarch butterflies, you will need to include both host plants and bee plants.
Native milkweeds serve as an oviposition site for adult butterflies and are the only host plant that will support monarch butterfly larvae. Plant milkweed species such as swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) to serve as host plants.
Adult monarchs do not feed on plant foliage but require nectar as a food source to sustain them throughout the year. They are able to feed on a wider range of flowers, so select a variety of species that provide continuous, layered flowering from spring through fall. For example, blue star (Amsonia tabernaemontana), Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), and wild sweet william (Phlox divaricata) are good options for spring.
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Species such as bergamot (Monarda punctata), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and blue haze (Conoclinium coelestinum) will provide nectar during the summer, and blazing star (Liatris spp.), asters ( Symphyotrichum spp.), goldenrod (Solidago speciosa), and black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta) can serve as a food source from late summer through fall.
Before planting anything, research the species you are interested in to ensure you have the right growing conditions. For a more comprehensive list of plants for monarch butterflies, visit the Xerces Society website: xerces.org/sites/default/files/publications/16-062.pdf. You can also find detailed growing information for each species in our Plant Finder database: missouribotanicalgarden.org/plantfinder/plantfindersearch.aspx.
Write to the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Center for Home Gardening at [email protected] or the Horticulture Answer Service, 4344 Shaw Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63110.