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8 Beautiful North Dakota Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) to Grow for Monarch Butterflies

North Dakota Milkweed Species to Include in your Butterfly Garden

There are eight species of native North Dakota milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) and one historic species that can be grown for Monarch Butterflies and other insects. 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. 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 found in the central and eastern parts of the state (hardy in zones 3-9), while the latter is not found in North Dakota (Kartesz 2015). Like the name suggests, in the wild, swamp milkweed is found in wet places such as the shores of streams, lakes, ponds, and other wetlands. Growing from 3 to 5 feet tall, it is one of the taller milkweed and has flowers that are generally a pink to red color, but there is also a white cultivar (pictured below). These flowers bloom from July to September.

In your North Dakota butterfly garden, swamp milkweed requires full sun to part-shade, and prefers moist to medium moisture soil, but can exist in drier soil as a landscape plant. 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.

2. Side-Cluster Milkweed (Asclepias lanuginosa), a Rare North Dakota Milkweed

Side-cluster Milkweed (Asclepias lanuginosa): Side-cluster milkweed is native and rare in scattered locations in North Dakota (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, side-cluster milkweed grows in prairies and sandhills having full sun. The height of this milkweed is variable and ranges from 0.5 to 4 feet tall. The flowers, which bloom from May to July, range in color from green to cream.

In North Dakota butterfly garden, while side-cluster milkweed is hardy in zones 4-7, it is rare and not in the horticultural trade.

Plant of side-cluster milkweed (Asclepias lanuginosa).
Vegetative Plant of Side-Cluster Milkweed — Asclepias lanuginosa Nutt. observed in Canada by Chris Friesen (licensed under CC BY 4.0)
Close-up of yellowish-green flowers of side-cluster milkweed (Asclepias lanuginosa).
Yellowish Flowers of Side-Cluster Milkweed — Asclepias lanuginosa Nutt. observed in Canada by Chris Friesen (licensed under CC BY 4.0)
Plants of side-cluster milkweed (Asclepias lanuginosa) with white flowers.
Side-Cluster Milkweed with Yellow Flowers — Asclepias lanuginosa Nutt. observed in Canada by Chris Friesen (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

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

Oval-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia): Oval-leaf milkweed is native throughout North Dakota, except for the southwest (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, oval-leaf milkweed grows in open areas having full sun or partial shade such as prairies, grasslands, savannas, railroad edges, and alluvial terraces. It is one of the shorter milkweeds in North Dakota growing up to 2 feet tall. The white, pink, or green flowers bloom from May to August.

In your North Dakota butterfly garden, oval-leaf milkweed is hardy in zones 5-9, 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)
Pinkish-white flowers of oval-leaf milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia).
Flowers of Oval-leaf Milkweed — 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 (Ascelpias ovalifolia) in a field — USFWS Mountain-Prairie, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

4. Low Milkweed (Asclepias pumila), a Milkweed for Dry Soils

Low Milkweed (Asclepias pumila): Low milkweed is located in the central and western parts of the state and one county in eastern North Dakota (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, low milkweed grows in dry prairies and plains that are at a moderate elevation. It is likely the shortest milkweed in North Dakota, growing only from 0.2 to 1.5 feet tall. The white to greenish-yellow to greenish-white flowers bloom from July to September.

In your North Dakota butterfly garden, low milkweed is hardy in zones 5-9, requires full sun, and dry sandy or gravelly soils.

Plant of low milkweed (Asclepias pumila) with white flowers.
Low Milkweed with Flower Buds — Jim Pisarowicz, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Plant of low milkweed (Asclepias pumila) with fruits.
Low Milkweed (Asclepias pumila) with Follicles — Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Close-up of white flowers of low milkweed (Asclepias pumila).
White Flowers of Low Milkweed — English: NPS Photo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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

Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa): Showy milkweed is native throughout North Dakota (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, showy milkweed grows in open areas such as roadsides, fields, and woodlands that are mesic to dry. Growing from 1 to 3 feet tall, this milkweed has flowers that are purple to pink in color and bloom from April to June.

In your North Dakota butterfly garden, showy milkweed, is hardy in zones 3-9 and requires places of full sun having medium to dry well-drained soil. Seeds of showy milkweed can be purchased in the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast Garden Shop.

Pinkish flowers of showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa).
Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) with Pink Flowers — 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 Follicle — John Rusk from Berkeley, CA, United States of America, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca): Common milkweed is native to central and eastern North Dakota (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, this milkweed is found in open areas such as fields, pastures, and roadsides, where it can receive full sun. One of the taller milkweeds, it can grow up to 6 feet tall and has flowers ranging from pink, greenish-purple, greenish-white, to white and bloom from June to August.

In your North Dakota butterfly garden, common 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) with pink flowers — Cbaile19, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) with eastern tiger swallowtail.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly on Common Milkweed — Author Image

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

Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata): Whorled milkweed is native throughout the state (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 a garden setting, whorled milkweed is hardy in zones 3-9, requires 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).
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

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

Green Comet Milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora): Green comet milkweed is native essentially throughout North Dakota except it is scattered in the northeastern parts (Kartesz 2015). In the wild, green comet milkweed grows in open areas such as meadows and field where there is full sun. Growing up to 3 feet tall, it has flowers that start out as a green color but age to become yellow and purple tinged. The flowers bloom from June to August.

In a garden setting, green comet milkweed is hardy in zones 3-9, requires full sun to part-shade, and medium to dry soils. 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 Species – Sullivant’s Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii), a Milkweed for Medium to Dry Soils

Sullivant’s Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii): Sullivant’s milkweed is historic, meaning it used to be in North Dakota (Kartesz 2015). When present in the state it was located in two counties in the southeast. Sullivant’s milkweed grows in open areas with full sun such as prairies, meadows, roadsides, and railroads and was originally associated with tall grass prairies (Minnesota DNR). In June and July it has pink to purplish flowers.

In your North Dakota butterfly garden, it is hardy in zones 3-7, requiring full sun and medium to dry sandy soil. 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)

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

References for North Dakota 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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