Learn about Monarch butterflies and the Florida native milkweed they require as host plants for their caterpillars. The publication features cautions about the use of non-native Tropical milkweed. Versión en español disponible.
Of the 22 milkweed species that occur in Florida, all but one are native. Our native milkweeds bloom mainly in spring or summer; however, in summer, only four of them are common and relatively easy to spot. Do you know which milkweeds to look for this summer?
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Ranger Scott Davis has been working on the milkweed restoration initiative since 2015, when he started with a single greenhouse table of seedlings. Since then he has been scouring the state for native milkweed populations and bringing seeds back to the refuge to propagate. He estimates that 300,000 plants have been grown there, which have been planted as part of restoration projects at state parks, state forests and national wildlife refuges across the state. It is no easy task to grow these plants, either.
Tropical milkweed can enable monarchs to continue breeding well into fall and winter, causing populations to persist longer in certain areas than they naturally would. Unfortunately, this can foster higher than normal infection rates by a lethal protozoan parasite, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE). We have suggestions for native milkweeds you can plant to support monarchs.
The monarch’s population decline has caused great concern in the last few years. The Xerces Society’s insight into factors that influence monarch butterfly populations has pointed to many things we cannot control. However, the increased production and planting of the monarch food plants, milkweeds, is certainly an environmental movement that can be achieved on a large scale in the United States.
Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a perennial that produces large, showy clusters of bright orange to reddish flowers from spring through fall. It occurs naturally in sandhills, pine flatwoods, and other sandy uplands as well as along sunny roadsides. It is an exception to the Asclepias genus in that its stem does not contain the milky latex that distinguishes the rest of the genus and gives it the common name “milkweed.”
Whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) is one of the smaller, more delicate native milkweeds and is easily overlooked when not in bloom. It flowers late spring through late summer/early fall.
With its diminutive stature and greenish-yellow flowers, Savannah milkweed (Asclepias pedicellata) is oft overlooked in its native pineland and prairie habitats. It blooms late spring through fall, peaking in summer. Its flowers are attractive to bees, wasps and butterflies. Like all members of the Asclepias genus, Savannah milkweed is a larval host plant for Monarch, Queen and Soldier butterflies. The plant contains a milky latex that is toxic to most animals, but Monarch, Queen and Soldier caterpillars are adapted to feed on them despite the chemical defense.
The Monarch butterfly’s demise has captured America’s attention. You can help by using native milkweed species in your landscape. Find out what you need to know to help save Monarchs.
Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) has showy pink flowers that typically bloom in summer and attracts many pollinators. It is a larval host for Monarch, Queen and Soldier butterflies.
Pinewoods milkweed (Asclepias humistrata) blooms in spring and summer, attracting many pollinators including wasps and butterflies. It is a larval host for Monarch and Queen butterflies.
Swamp milkweed (Asclepias perennis) blooms in late spring through early fall and attracts many pollinators. It is a larval host plant for Monarch, Queen and Soldier butterflies.