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11 West Virginia Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) to Grow for Monarch Butterflies

West Virginia Milkweed Species to Include in your Butterfly Garden

There are eleven species of West Virginia milkweeds (Asclepias spp.). 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 Moist to Dry Soils

Clasping Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis): Clasping milkweed is native to three central and southwestern counties of West Virginia (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 that bloom from March to September.

In your West Virginia butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 3-9 and requires full sun to part-shade and moist to dry sandy 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.
Flower of Clasping Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) — Mason Brock (Masebrock), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Pinkish flowers of clasping milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) in a field.
Reddish-pink Flowers of Clasping Milkweed (Asclepia amplexicaulis) — 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 found throughout the state, but mostly in the eastern counties (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, poke milkweed grows in moist woods, roadsides, and the edges of woods. Growing from 2 to 6 fee tall, it is one of the taller milkweeds in West Virginia and has flowers that are white to green with accents of rose, purple, or blue.

In your West Virginia butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 3-9 and requires part-shade to full shade and moist soil. For shade gardens, this is a choice milkweed. 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.
Plant of Poke Milkweed — “Asclepias exaltata” by kevinliam is marked with CC0 1.0.
White flowers of poke milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) in a wooded area.
Plant of Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) 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. Both are native throughout West Virginia (Kartesz 2015). Subspecies incarnata is hardy in zones 3-9, while subspecies pulchra is hardy in zones 4-9. 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 West Virginia butterfly garden, this milkweed requires full sun to part-shade and medium to moist soils. Seeds of swamp milkweed can be purchased in the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast Garden Shop.

Pink flowers of swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) from Pennsylvania.
Flowers of Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) — 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.
“Swamp milkweed, rose milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, new England native garden” by sapienssolutions is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

4. Long-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias longifolia var. hirtella), a Milkweed for Moist Soils

Long-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias longifolia var. hirtella): Long-leaf milkweed has two varieties, var. hirtella and var. longifolia. West Virginia only has var. hirtella, which is mostly in the western counties with disjunct localities in the north and south, and is considered to be rare (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, long-leaf milkweed grows in wetlands such as bogs, swamps, and flatwoods. Growing from 1 to 2.5 feet tall, the flowers are greenish-white with a purple tinge and bloom from April to July.

In your West Virginia butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 8-10 (var. hirtella) and requires full sun and moist to wet soils.

Purplish flowers of long-leaf milkweed (Asclepias longifolia).
Flowers of Long-leaf Milkweed — Asclepias longifolia Michx. observed in United States of America by Justin (licensed under CC0 1.0)
Purplish flowers of long-leaf milkweed (Asclepias longifolia) with beetle.
Flowers of Long-leaf Milkweed with Beetle — Asclepias longifolia Michx. observed in United States of America by Justin (licensed under CC0 1.0)
Yellowish-pink flowers of long-leaf milkweed (Asclepias longifolia).
Yellowish Flowers of Long-leaf Milkweed — Public Domain Image

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

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

In your West Virginia 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 purple flowers of purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens).
Flowers of Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens) — Photo by and (c)2009 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man), GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons
Plants of purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens) in a garden.
Plants of Purple Milkweed — peganum from Henfield, England, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Green follicle of purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens).
Follicle of Purple Milkweed — Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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

Four-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia): Four-leaf milkweed is native throughout West Virginia (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 West Virginia 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) with whitish flowers.
Lavendar flowers of Four-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia) — Photo 18324078, no rights reserved, uploaded by Prairie Voyageur
Pinkish flowers of four-leaf milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia).
Flowers of Four-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia) — User:Halpaugh, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Plant of four-leaf milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia) with white flowers.
Flowers of Four-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia) — Eric Hunt, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca): Common milkweed is native throughout the state (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, common milkweed grows in open areas such as fields, pastures, and roadsides, where it can receive full sun. 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 West Virginia 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 milkweeds 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) in a garden, a West Virginia Milkweed.
Pink Flowers of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) — Robert Coxe, Image
Plant of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) with pink flowers.
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) with pink flowers — Cbaile19, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Follicles (fruits) of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).
Follicles of Common Milkweed — Clump, CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

8. 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 West Virginia, two of its three subspecies occur in the state and include subsp. interior and subsp. tuberosa (Kartesz 2015). Both subspecies occur throughout the state, but subsp. interior is of more limited distribution. 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 that bloom throughout the summer and sometimes into the autumn.

In your West Virginia butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy from zones 3-9 and requires full sun in any type of soil. 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) in a garden.
Flowers of Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) — Robert Coxe, Image
Butterfly weed on a roadside.
Roadside Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) — Jim Conrad, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Follicles of butterfly weed showing seeds.
Follicles of Butterfly Weed — User:SB_Johnny, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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

Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata): Whorled milkweed is native to the southwestern, southern, and eastern counties of West Virginia (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, it has green to white flowers that bloom from May to September.

In your West Virginia 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 (Asclepias verticillata) — 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 a field.
Flowers of Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) — Mason Brock (Masebrock), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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

Green Comet Milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora): Green comet milkweed is native to the southwestern and eastern counties of West Virginia (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 West Virginia 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.

Flower cluster of green comet milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora).
Flowers of Green Comet Milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora) — Patrick Alexander from Las Cruces, NM, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Plant of green comet milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora).
Plant of Green Comet Milkweed — Matt Lavin from Bozeman, Montana, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Leaves of green comet milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora).
Leaves of Green Comet Milkweed — Patrick Alexander from Las Cruces, NM, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

11. Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridis), a Milkweed for Medium to Dry High pH Soils

Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridis): Green milkweed is considered rare and is located in three southwestern counties (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, green milkweed grows open areas that are generally dry such as roadsides, pine barrens, and glades. Growing from 0.5 to 2 feet tall, it has green, yellowish-green, or white flowers with purple hoods and bloom from April to October.

In your West Virginia butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 5-9 and requires medium to dry soils having a high pH. Seeds of green milkweed can be purchased in the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast Garden Shop.

Close-up of greenish flowers of green milkweed (Asclepias viridis).
Flowers of Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridis) — Barnes Dr Thomas G, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Plant of green milkweed (Asclepias viridis).
Plant of Green Milkweed — Asclepias viridis Walter observed in United States of America by John Kees (licensed under CC0 1.0)
Flower cluster of green milkweed (Asclepias viridis).
Flowers of Green Milkweed — Asclepias viridis Walter observed in United States of America by Alan Prather (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

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

References for West Virginia Milkweeds

  • 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)]
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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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