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12 Maryland Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) to Grow for Monarch Butterflies

Maryland Milkweed Species to Include in your Butterfly Garden

There are twelve native species of Maryland milkweeds (Asclepias spp.). Milkweeds are an important host plant for Monarch, Queen, and Soldier Butterflies. These butterflies use 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 Moist to Dry Soils

Clasping Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis): Clasping milkweed is native in scattered locations in the middle and eastern counties of Maryland (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, clasping milkweed grows in dry woodlands, meadows, and roadsides having sandy or gravelly soil. Growing up to 3 feet tall, this milkweed has greenish-pink, red, brown, to purple flowers that bloom from March to September.

In your Maryland butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 3-9 and requires full sun to part-shade and moist to dry sandy soils. Clasping milkweed seeds 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

Poke Milkweed (Ascelpias exaltata): Poke milkweed is native to the western and middle counties of Maryland and one county on the coast (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 Maryland and has flowers that are white to green with accents of rose, purple, or blue.

In your Maryland butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 3-9 and requires part-shade to full shade and moist soil. For shade garden, this is a choice milkweed. Poke milkweed seeds 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

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata): Swamp milkweed has two subspecies, ssp. incarnata and ssp. pulchra. The former is native in one county in the northeastern part of Maryland (hardy in zones 3-9), while the latter is found in scattered locations in the northeast and eastern counties of the state (hardy in zones 4-9). Like the name suggests, swamp milkweed, is found in wet places such as the shores of streams, lakes, ponds, and other wetlands. The flowers are variable and are generally a pink to red color, but there is also a white cultivar (pictured below).

In your Maryland butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 3-9 and requires full sun to part-shade in medium to moist soils. However, as a landscape plant it can exist in drier places. Seeds of 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. Few-flower Milkweed (Asclepias lanceolata), a Milkweed for Moist Soils

Few-flower Milkweed (Asclepias lanceolata): Few-flower milkweed is native to the eastern shore and is considered to be rare in Maryland (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, few-flower milkweed grows on the edges of marshes and the wet areas of pine barrens and savannas. Growing from 2 to 5 feet tall, it has flowers that are yellow, orange to red and bloom from May to August.

In your Maryland butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 5-11 and requires full sun to part-shade in loamy moist to wet soil.

Plant of few-flowered milkweed (Asclepias lanceolata) in a wetland.
Flowers of Few-flower Milkweed — Asclepias lanceolata Walter observed in United States of America by John Kees (licensed under CC0 1.0)
Plant of few-flower milkweed (Asclepias lanceolata) in an open area.
Plant of Few-flower Milkweed — Asclepias lanceolata Walter observed in United States of America by Jana Miller (licensed under CC0 1.0)
Orangish flowers of few-flower milkweed (Asclepias lanceolata).
Flowers of Few-flower Milkweed — Asclepias lanceolata Walter observed in United States of America by Robert Webster (licensed under CC BY SA 4.0)

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

Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens): Purple milkweed is native and rare in the northeastern counties and eastern shore of Maryland (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, purple milkweed can tolerate full sun to part shade and grows in swamps, woodlands, meadows, and roadsides. Growing up to 6 feet tall, it is one of the taller milkweeds in Maryland, and has flowers, as the name suggests that are generally purple, but it can range from rose to pink, or may start out pink and mature to purple.

In your Maryland butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 3-8 and generally requires part-shade, but 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)

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

Four-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia): Four-leaf milkweed is native generally in the middle of Maryland and one county in the west (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, four-leaf milkweed grows in open areas such as roadsides, and pastures 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 Maryland butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 5-8 and prefers full sun or part-shade and dry rocky soils.

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

7. Red Milkweed (Asclepias rubra), a Milkweed for Moist to Wet Soils

Red Milkweed (Asclepias rubra): Red milkweed is native and rare in the middle and eastern shore of Maryland (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 Maryland butterfly garden, this milkweed prefers full sun or part-shade and dry rocky soils and is hardy in zones 6-9.

Red flowers of red milkweed (Asclepias rubra).
Flowers of Red Milkweed (Asclepias rubra) — peganum from Small Dole, England, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Plant of red milkweed (Asclepias rubra) at the edge of woods.
Plants of Red Milkweed (Asclepias rubra) — 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.

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

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca): Common milkweed is native in the eastern shore and scattered locations in the rest of Maryland (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, common milkweed grows in open areas such as fields, pastures, and roadsides, where there is full sun. Growing from 1 to 3 feet tall, the flowers range from pink, greenish-purple, greenish-white, to white and bloom from June to August.

In your Maryland 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 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

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

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa): Butterfly weed is one of the most common for butterfly gardeners on the east coast of the United States. In Maryland, subsp. tuberosa is the only one present and occurs throughout the state (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, this milkweed 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 that bloom throughout the summer and sometimes into the autumn.

In your Maryland butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy from zones 3-9 and requires full sun in any type of soil condition. This is 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

10. Red-ring Milkweed (Asclepias variegata), a Milkweed for Dry Sandy Soils

Red-Ring Milkweed (Asclepias variegata): Red-ring milkweed is native in scattered locations throughout Maryland (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 that bloom from May to July with a ring of purple to red at flower base.

In your Maryland 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.

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

Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata): Whorled milkweed is native and rare in scattered locations throughout Maryland (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 from 1 to 3 feet tall, this milkweed has green to white flowers that bloom from May to September.

In your Maryland butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 3-9 and requires full sun to part-shade with medium to dry soil. Whorled milkweed seeds 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

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

Green Comet Milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora): Green comet milkweed is native in the middle and eastern shore of Maryland (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, the flowers, which bloom from June to August, begin as a green color but age to become yellow with a purple tinge.

In your Maryland butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 3-9 and requires full sun to part-shade with medium to dry sandy soil. Green comet milkweed seeds 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

2 Additional Maryland Milkweeds are in the literature as being from Maryland but are not

Two other milkweeds are present in the literature as being from Maryland. These include slim milkweed (Asclepias linearis) (Brown and Brown 1984) and long-leaf milkweed (Asclepias longifolia)(Rosatti 1989). The record of Asclepias linearis is considered to be a mis-identification and the other is not supported by a specimen in Maryland (Knapp and Naczi 2021).

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

References for Maryland Milkweeds

  • Brown, M.L. and R.G. Brown. 1984. Herbaceous plants of Maryland. Port City Press, Inc., Baltimore.
  • Kartesz, 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)]
  • Knapp, Wesley M. and Robert F.C. Naczi. 2021. Vascular Plants of Maryland, USA: A Comprehensive Account of the State’s Botanical Diversity. Smithsonian Contributions to Botany no. 113.
  • Rosatti, T.J. 1989. The genera of suborder Apocynineae (Apocynaceae and Asclepiadaceae) in the southeastern United States [prim.] Journal of the Arnold Arboretum 70 (3): 307-401.
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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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