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12 Irresistible Grand Traverse County, MI Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) to Grow for Butterflies

There are twelve species of native or nearly native Grand Traverse County milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) that can be grown for butterflies and other insects. Milkweeds are an important host species for monarch butterflies in Michigan. 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. Michigan is divided into the lower and upper peninsulas by Lakes Michigan and Huron. For purposes of clarity, distributions are given using these peninsulas.

Location of Grand Traverse County, Michigan

Map of the location of Traverse City, MI.
Map of Traverse City and Grand Traverse County, MI — Notorious4life at English Wikipedia, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Grand Traverse County Michigan is located on the east shore of Lake Michigan. At the south end of a cove in Lake Michigan is Traverse City, which is the largest city in the county.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones in Grand Traverse County, Michigan

2023 USDA plant hardiness zone map for the state of Michigan.
2023 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map for Michigan, USA — USDA Public Domain

Grand Traverse County is located in two plant hardiness zones and three subzones . The part of the county on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan is located in plant hardiness zone 6b, while the southeastern part of the county is in zone 5b. Traverse City is located within zone 6a. When selecting plants you will want to get those that can handle temperatures as cold as -100F in most of the county except for the southeast where it would be -150F.

1. Clasping Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis), a Milkweed for Dry Soils

Clasping Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis): Clasping milkweed is native to the western and south-central counties of the lower peninsula of Michigan (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. Clasping milkweed is native just south of Grand Traverse County but can handle the hardiness zone in the county.

In your Grand Traverse County butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 3-9 and requires full sun to partial shade having dry sandy/rocky soil. 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) — Mason Brock (Masebrock), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Pinkish flowers of clasping milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) in a field, a Raleigh milkweed.
Flowers of Clasping Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) — cassi saari, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Reddish-pink flowers of clasping milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) in a field.
Pinkish 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 in both the lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, poke milkweed grows in moist woods, roadsides, and edges of woods. Reaching a height of 2 to 6 feet, it is one of the taller milkweeds in Michigan and has flowers that are white to green with accents of rose, purple, or blue. The flowers bloom from May to August. Poke milkweed is native to Grand Traverse County and can do well here.

In your Grand Traverse County butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 3-9 and requires part-shade to full shade in 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 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 (Asclepias exaltata) — 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 throughout Michigan (hardy in zones 3-9), while the latter is native to one county in Michigan in the northeastern lower peninsula (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. Growing from 3 to 5 feet tall, the flowers are variable and are generally a pink to red color, but there is also a white cultivar (pictured below).

In your Grand Traverse County butterfly garden, swamp milkweed requires full sun to part-shade and prefers moist to medium moisture soil, but can exist in drier soil. 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 (Asclepias incarnata) — 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. Long-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias longifolia), a Milkweed for Moist Soils

Long-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias longifolia): Long-leaf milkweed has two varieties, var. hirtella and var. longifolia. Of these var. hirtella is rare and occurs in scattered counties in the lower peninsula (Kartesz 2015). The other variety is not located in Michigan. In the wild, long-leaf milkweed grows in moist areas and wetlands such as bogs, swamps, flatwoods, and prairies having full sun. Reaching a height of 1 to 2.5 feet tall, the greenish-white flowers bloom from April to July. While not native to Grand Traverse County, this milkweed can handle the plant hardiness zone.

In your Grand Traverse County butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 4-9 and requires full sun and needs moist to wet soils.

Purple flowers of long-leaf milkweed (Asclepias longifolia).
Long-leaf Milkweed with Purple Flowers — 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
Pink flower cluster of long-leaf milkweed (Asclepias longifolia) in an open area.
Plants of Long-leaf Milkweed in an Open Area — Asclepias longifolia Michx. observed in United States of America by cnagele (licensed under CC0 1.0)

5. Oval-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia), a Milkweed for well-drained High pH Soil

Oval-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia): Oval-leaf milkweed is native and rare in one county (Menominee County) in the upper peninsula of Michigan (Kartesz 2015). However, while not native near to Grand Traverse County, this milkweed can handle the plant hardiness zone. Oval-leaf milkweed grows in open areas having full sun or partial shade such as prairies, grasslands, savannas, railroad edges, and alluvial terraces. The white, pink, or green flowers bloom from May to August.

In your Grand Traverse County butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 5-9, and requires full sun to part-shade and well-drained high pH soil. Seeds of oval-leaf milkweed can be purchased in the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast Garden Shop.

Plant of oval-leaf milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia) with white flowers.
Oval-leaf Milkweed with White Flowers — Asclepias ovalifolia Decne. observed in United States of America by msieges (licensed under CC0 1.0)
Cluster of pinkish flowers from Oval-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia).
Flowers of Oval-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia) — Justin Meissen from St Paul, United States, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Plant of oval-leaf milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia) in a field.
Oval-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia) — USFWS Mountain-Prairie, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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

Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens): Purple milkweed is native and rare in the south-central and central parts of the lower peninsula of Michigan (Kartesz 2015). While not native to Grand Traverse County, this milkweed can handle the plant hardiness zone. This plant grows in moist to dry places having full sun to part shade such as swamps, woodlands, meadows, roadsides, and dry fields. The purple to pink flowers bloom from May to July.

In your Grand Traverse County butterfly garden, purple milkweed is hardy in zones 3-8 and requires part-shade, but can handle full sun. 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).
Flower cluster of Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens) — Steepcone, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Plants of purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens).
Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens) — 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)

7. Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), a Milkweed for Medium to Dry Soils

Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa): Showy milkweed is adventive to one county (Mackinac County) in the upper peninsula of Michigan (Kartesz 2015). It is not native to Grand Traverse County, but this milkweed can handle the plant hardiness zone and is often planted in butterfly gardens. Showy milkweed grows in open areas such as roadsides, fields, and woodlands that are mesic to dry. It has flowers that are purple to pink in color and bloom from April to June.

In your Grand Traverse County butterfly garden, showy milkweed is hardy in zones 3-9 and requires full sun and medium to well-drained soils. Seeds of showy milkweed can be purchased in the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast Garden Shop.

Pinkish flowers of showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa).
Flowers of Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) — Matt Lavin from Bozeman, Montana, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Pinkish-white flowers of showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa).
Close-up of Pink Flowers of Showy Milkweed — Asclepias speciosa Torr. observed in Canada by markeambard (licensed under CC0 1.0)
Follicle of showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa).
Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) Follicle — John Rusk from Berkeley, CA, United States of America, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

8. Sullivant’s Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii), a Milkweed for Medium to Dry Soils

Sullivant’s Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii): Sullivant’s milkweed is native and rare in the southeast and eastern parts of the lower peninsula of Michigan (Kartesz 2015). While not native to Grand Traverse County, this milkweed can handle the plant hardiness zone. Sullivant’s milkweed grows in open areas with full sun such as prairies, meadows, roadsides, and railroads. In June and July the pink to purplish flowers come for your garden visitors to enjoy.

In your Grand Traverse County butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 3-7 and requires full sun and medium to dry soils. Seeds of Sullivant’s milkweed can be purchased in the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast Garden Shop.

Plant of sullivant's milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii) with pink flowers.
Sullivant’s Milkweed in a field — Asclepias sullivantii Engelm. ex A.Gray observed in United States of America by Nancy Navarre (licensed under CC0 1.0)
Plant of sullivant's milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii) in a field.
Pink Flowers of Sullivant’s Milkweed — Asclepias sullivantii Engelm. ex A.Gray observed in United States of America by samk (licensed under CC0 1.0)
Herbarium specimen of sullivant's milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii).
Herbarium Specimen — Asclepias sullivantii Engelm. ex A.Gray Collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

9. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), a Milkweed for all Conditions

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca): Common milkweed is native throughout Michigan on both peninsulas (Kartesz 2015) and is found in open areas such as fields, pastures, and roadsides, where it can receive full sun. This species is native to Grand Traverse County. The flowers range from pink, greenish-purple, greenish-white, to white and bloom from June to August.

In your Grand Traverse County butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 3-9 and grows in almost any exposure and soil condition, though it prefers full sun. 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) — Cbaile19, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) with eastern tiger swallowtail.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly on Common Milkweed — Author Image

10. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), a Milkweed for all Conditions

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa): Butterfly weed is one of the most common for butterfly gardeners on the east coast of the United States. Butterfly weed has three subspecies, two of which, subsp. interior and subsp. tuberosa occur in Michigan. Subspecies interior is located throughout the lower peninsula, including Grand Traverse County, and one county in the upper peninsula. Subspecies tuberosa is located in one county (Kalamazoo County) in the lower peninsula. The flowers are characteristically orange and bloom throughout the summer and sometimes into the autumn. It grows in open areas with full sun such as fields, roadsides, and open woods.

In your Grand Traverse County butterfly garden, butterfly weed is hardy in zones 3-9 and grows in places of full sun with nearly any soil type. 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 — U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Follicles of butterfly weed showing seeds.
Butterfly Weed Follicles — User:SB_Johnny, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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

Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata): Whorled milkweed is native in scattered locations in the lower and upper peninsulas (Kartesz 2015). It is native just to the west in Benzie County. Whorled milkweed has green to white flowers that bloom from May to September. Like a lot of other milkweeds it grows in open areas such as meadows and fields, where it can take advantage of full sun.

In your Grand Traverse County butterfly garden, this milkweed is hardy in zones 3-9 and grows in full sun to part-shade and 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).
Flowers of Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) — Joshua Mayer (wackybadger), CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Leaves of whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata).
Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) Leaves — 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

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

Green Comet Milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora): Green comet milkweed is native mostly to the south-central lower peninsula and scattered in the northwestern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan (Kartesz 2015). This species is native in counties adjacent to Grand Traverse County. The flowers, which bloom from June to August, begin as a green color but age to become yellow with a purple tinge. The habitat includes open areas such as meadows and field where there is full sun.

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

Plant of green comet milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora).
Green Comet Milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora) — Matt Lavin from Bozeman, Montana, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Close-up of flowers of green comet milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora).
Flowers of Green Comet Milkweed — Barnes Dr Thomas G, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Leaves of green comet milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora).
Green Comet Milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora) leaves — Patrick Alexander from Las Cruces, NM, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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

References for Michigan 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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