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10 New York Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) to Grow for Monarch Butterflies

New York Milkweed Species to Include in your Butterfly Garden

There are ten species of New York milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) and one species, red milkweed (Asclepias rubra) that used to be present in New York and is considered “historic” to the state. Milkweeds are an important host species for Monarch, Queen, and Soldier Butterflies. The Monarch butterfly in particular uses the cardenolides found in the milky sap of milkweeds to give an unpleasant taste to predators. These plants are also an important nectar source to all insects visiting your pollinator garden.

1. Clasping Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis), a Milkweed for Sandy Soil

Clasping Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis): Clasping milkweed is native in the eastern counties of New York with one disjunct location in the west (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, clasping milkweed grows in dry woodlands, prairies, meadows, and roadsides that have sandy or gravelly soil. Growing up to 3 feet tall, this milkweed has greenish-pink, red, brown, to purple flowers than bloom from March to September.

In your New York butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 3-9 and requires full sun to part-shade and moist to dry sand soils. Seeds of clasping milkweed can be purchased in the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast Garden Shop.

Plant of clasping milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) with pink flowers in a wooded area.
Clasping Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) in a Wooded area — Mason Brock (Masebrock), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Pinkish flowers of clasping milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) in a field.
Clasping Milkweed with Pink Flowers — cassi saari, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Reddish-pink flowers of clasping milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) in a field.
Flowers of Clasping Milkweed — “Asclepias amplexicaulis – Clasping Milkweed” by FritzFlohrReynolds is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

2. Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata), a Milkweed for Shade and Moist Soils

2. Poke Milkweed (Ascelpias exaltata): Poke milkweed is native throughout New York except for the far northern counties (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, poke milkweed grows in moist woods, roadsides, and the edges of woods. Growing from 2 to 6 feet tall, it is one of the taller milkweeds in New York and has flowers that are white to green with accents of rose, purple, or blue. Blooming occurs from May to August.

In your New York butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 3-9 and requires part-shade to full shade with moist soil. Seeds of poke milkweed can be purchased in the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast Garden Shop.

Greenish-white flowers of poke milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) in a wooded area.
Flowers of Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) — Dendroica cerulea, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Plant of poke milkweed with white flowers in a wooded habitat.
Poke Milkweed in a Wooded Area — “Asclepias exaltata” by kevinliam is marked with CC0 1.0.
White flowers of poke milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) in a wooded area.
Poke Milkweed with White Flowers — homeredwardprice, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

3. Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), a Milkweed for Moist Soils

3. Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata): Swamp milkweed has two subspecies, ssp. incarnata and ssp. pulchra. The former is found thoughout New York (hardy in zones 3-9), while the latter is scattered in the state except for the western counties (hardy in zones 4-9) (Kartesz 2015). Like the name suggests this plant is found in wet places such as the shores of streams, lakes, ponds, and other wetlands. However, as a landscape plant it can exist in drier places. The flowers are variable and are generally a pink to red color, but there is also a white cultivar (pictured below).

In your New York butterfly garden, this milkweed requires full sun to part shade and preferably moist soils, but can handle dry. Seeds for swamp milkweed can be purchased in the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast Garden Shop.

Pink flowers of swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) from Pennsylvania.
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) with Pink Flowers — Cbaile19, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) 'Ice Ballet' cultivar.
‘Ice Ballet’ Cultivar of Swamp Milkweed — Photo by and (c)2009 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man), GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons
Follicles (fruits) of swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) in a garden.
Follicles — “Swamp milkweed, rose milkweed, asclepias incarnata, new England native garden” by sapienssolutions is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

4. Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens), a Milkweed for Moist Soils

4. Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens): Purple milkweed is rare in the eastern counties of New York (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, purple milkweed can grow in a variety of places including swamps, woodlands, meadows, and roadsides, where there is full sun or part shade. Growing up to 6 feet tall, it is one of the taller milkweeds in New York, and has flowers, as the name suggests are generally purple, but it can range from rose to pink, or may start out pink and mature to purple. Blooming occurs from May to July.

In your New York butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 3-8 and generally requires part-shade, but can handle full sun if needed. Soils should be moist and well-drained, but dry soil can be tolerated. Seeds of purple milkweed can be purchased in the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast Garden Shop.

Close-up of pinkish-purple flowers of purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens).
Purple Milkweed with Pinkish-purple Flowers — Steepcone, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Plants of purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens).
Group of Purple Milkweed in a Garden — peganum from Henfield, England, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Plant of purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens) with purple flowers.
Purple Milkweed with Purple Flowers — Asclepias purpurascens L. observed in United States of America by Jim Bowhay (licensed under CC0 1.0)

5. Four-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia), a Milkweed for Dry Rocky Soils

5. Four-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia): Four-leaf milkweed is native in the eastern and western counties of New York (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, four-leaf milkweed grows in open areas such as roadsides, pastures, and prairies that have some disturbance. Growing from 1 to 3 feet tall, the flowers range from white to pink in color and bloom from April to July.

In your New York butterfly garden, this milkweed prefers places where it can enjoy full sun or part-shade and dry rocky soils and is hardy in zones 5-8.

Plant of four-leaf milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia) in a wooded area.
Four-leaf Milkweed with Lavender Flowers — User:Halpaugh, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Pinkish flowers of four-leaf milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia).
Four-leaf Milkweed with whitish-pink flowers — User:Halpaugh, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Plant of four-leaf milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia) with white flowers.
Four-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia) in a Wooded Area — Eric Hunt, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

6. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), a Milkweed for all Soils

6. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca): Common milkweed is native throughout New York (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, common milkweed grows in open areas such as fields, pastures, and roadsides, where it can receive full sun. It is considered to be a noxious weed just to the north in the Province of Ontario in Canada. Growing up to 6 feet tall, it is a tall milkweed having flowers ranging from pink, greenish-purple, greenish-white, to white and bloom from June to August.

In your New York butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 3-9 and requires full-sun to part-shade and any type of soil. As the name implies this is one of the most common and important milkweed species for the Monarch butterfly. Seeds of common milkweed can be purchased in the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast Garden Shop.

Flowers of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), a North Carolina milkweed.
Pink Flowers of Common Milkweed in McMullen House Garden — Robert Coxe, Image
Plant of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) with pink flowers.
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) in a wooded area — Cbaile19, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) with eastern tiger swallowtail.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Common Milkweed — Author Image

7. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), a Milkweed for all Soils

7. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa): Butterfly weed is one of the most common for butterfly gardeners on the east coast of the United States. This plant has three recognized subspecies, two of which, subsp. interior and subsp. tuberosa, are found in New York. Both are generally throughout the state except for the far northern counties (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, butterfly weed grows in open areas with full sun such as fields, roadsides, and open woods. Growing from 1 to 3 feet tall, it has characteristically orange flowers and that bloom throughout the summer and sometimes into the autumn.

In your New York butterfly garden, butterfly weed is hardy from zones 3-9 and requires full sun in any type of soil condition. This one of two milkweeds in North America that does not have a milky sap. Seeds of butterfly weed can be purchased in the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast Garden Shop.

Orange flowers of butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).
Butterfly Weed with Orange Flowers — Robert Coxe, Image
Monarch butterfly on butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).
Butterfly Weed with Monarch Butterfly — Laura Perlick, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Follicles of butterfly weed showing seeds.
Butterfly Weed Follicle — User:SB_Johnny, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

8. Red-Ring Milkweed (Asclepias variegata), a Milkweed for Dry Sandy Soils

8. Red-Ring Milkweed (Asclepias variegata): Red-ring milkweed is considered rare in New York and is native generally around New York City and Long Island and in Erie County in the west (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, red-ring milkweed grows in open disturbed areas such as thickets and roadsides. Growing from 1 to 4 feet tall, it has white colored flowers with a ring of purple to red at the base that bloom from May to July.

In your New York butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 3-9 and prefers part-sun to light shade and dry sandy or rocky soils. Seeds of red-ring milkweed can be purchased in the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast Garden Shop.

Close-up of white flowers of red ring milkweed (Asclepias variegata).
Red-ring Milkweed with White Flowers — Masebrock, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Plant of red ring milkweed (Asclepias variegata) in a wooded area.
Red-ring Milkweed in a Wooded Area — “Asclepias variegata” by coatlicue is marked with CC0 1.0.
White flower clusters of red ring milkweed (Asclepias variegata).
Close-up of White Flowers — “Asclepias variegata” by coatlicue is marked with CC0 1.0.

9. Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata), a Milkweed for Medium to Dry Soil

9. Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata): Whorled milkweed is considered rare in New York and has a distribution similar to the red-ring milkweed (Asclepias variegata) above (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, whorled milkweed grows in open areas such as meadows and fields, where it can take advantage of full sun. Growing up to 3 feet tall, this milkweed has green to white flowers that bloom from May to September.

In your New York butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 3-9 and requires full sun to part-shade with medium to dry soil. Seeds of whorled milkweed can be purchased at the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast Garden Shop.

Close-up of white flowers of whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata).
White Flowers of Whorled Milkweed — Joshua Mayer (wackybadger), CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Leaves of whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata).
Leaves and Stem of Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) — Frank Mayfield (gmayfield10), CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
White flowers of whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) in an open area.
Whorled Milkwed with White Flowers — Mason Brock (Masebrock), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

10. Green Comet Milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora), a Milkweed for Medium to Dry Soils

10. Green Comet Milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora): Green comet milkweed is considered to be rare in New York and is native generally in the New York City and Long Island areas (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, green comet milkweed grows in open areas such as meadows and fields where there is full sun. Growing up to 3 feet tall, it has flowers, which bloom from June to August, that begin as a green color but age to become yellow with a purple tinge.

In your New York butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 3-9 and requires full sun to part-shade with medium to dry sandy soil. Seeds of green comet milkweed can be purchased at the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast Garden Shop.

Green flower cluster of green comet milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora).
Green Comet Milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora) with yellowish-green flowers — Patrick Alexander from Las Cruces, NM, CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Plant of green comet milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora).
Green Comet Milkweed in a Field — Matt Lavin from Bozeman, Montana, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Leaves of green comet milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora).
Green Comet Milkweed Leaves — Patrick Alexander from Las Cruces, NM, CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Historic New York Milkweed – Red Milkweed (Asclepias rubra), a Milkweed for Moist to Wet Soils

Red Milkweed (Asclepias rubra): Red milkweed is considered to be historic to Long Island and one county in the east central part of New York (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, red milkweed grows in wet open areas such as bogs, meadows, and pine barrens. Growing from 1 to 3 feet tall, the flowers range from pink, purple, red to lavender and bloom from May to August.

In your New York butterfly garden, this milkweed prefers places where it can enjoy full sun or part-shade and wet organic soils. It is hardy in zones 6-9. While this milkweed used to natively occur in New York, it could once again live there in your garden.

Close-up of pink flowers of red milkweed (Asclepias rubra).
Pink Flowers of Red Milkweed — peganum from Small Dole, England, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Plant of red milkweed (Asclepias rubra) with red flowers.
Red Milkweed (Asclepias rubra) with Pink Flowers — peganum from Henfield, England, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Plant of red milkweed (Asclepias rubra).
Plant of Red Milkweed — “Asclepias rubra” by lauramorganclark is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

When selecting your New York milkweed, be sure to make sure that it grows in your zone and habitat.

References for New York Milkweeds

  • Karstesz, J.T. The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2015. Taxonomic Data Center. Link to website. Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2015. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)]
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Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.

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