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11 Irresistible Elmira, NY Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) to Grow for Butterflies

Table of Contents for Elmira, NY Native or Nearly Native Milkweeds

General Information about Native Plant and Pollinator Gardens

When planting a native plant and pollinator garden in Elmira, NY, you need to ensure that you have a selection of plants that provide blooms at different times of the year. In addition to the plants, you need to provide a source of water such as a birdbath or water feature, shelter for animals, and nesting locations for birds. Be sure to also include plants of different heights for perching. Resources you can use for more information on butterfly gardening in Elmira, NY include the Chemung Valley Audubon Society and their Northrup Hill Wildlife Sanctuary and the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service.

Location of Chemung County, New York

State of New York map with Chemung County, colored in red.
Chemung County Colored in Red on a New York State Map — David Benbennick, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Chemung County is located in south-central New York. Elmira is the largest city in the county. This blog post covers those milkweeds that occur in Chemung County.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones in Chemung County, New York

2023 USDA plant hardiness zone map of New York.
2023 New York State USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map — USDA Public Domain.

Chemung County is located within two Plant Hardiness Zones — 5b and 6a. Elmira, the largest city, is within zone 6a. Generally, when selecting plants in Chemung County you will want to get those that can handle temperatures as cold as -150F.

Butterflies in Chemung County, NY that are Hosted by Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.)

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) with Monarch butterfly.
Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on Purple Coneflower — Robert Coxe, Image

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

The monarch butterfly is an iconic butterfly in North America and is a bell-weather of the environment. Having a distinctive orange color with black stripes, this butterfly has a wingspan of 3 in (7.6 cm) to 5 in (12.7 cm). The monarch butterfly uses milkweed to get cardenolides, a toxin that is distasteful to predators. This butterfly can have several flights a year and is known for its migrations to Mexico each year. However, some populations in California, Arizona, and Florida do not migrate and breed year-round (Urguhart, et al 1968).

List of Milkweeds that are Native or Nearly Native in the Elmira, NY Area

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

Clasping milkweed is found in open to semi-open places such as meadows, savannas, open woodlands, and roadsides. While it likes full sun, this plant can handle part-shade and needs clay, loam, or sandy soil that is well-drained. Soil that is too moist can result in root rot. Reproduction is through seeds and underground rhizomes. The pink to purple flower clusters have about 25 fragrant flowers each.

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

Facts about Clasping Milkweed

  • Native to New York: Yes, eastern and one county in the west (Kartesz 2015)
  • Native to Chemung County: No
  • Natural Habitat: dry woodlands, meadows, and roadsides
  • Height: up to 3 ft (0.9 m)
  • Flower Color: greenish-pink, red, brown, to purple
  • Flowering Period: March to September
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Gardening with Clasping Milkweed

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

Poke milkweed is a part-shade to shade loving milkweed, but can handle full sun in a garden setting. A variety of soils such as clay, loamy, and sand that are moderate to wet and are well-drained are needed as this species can often be found adjacent to stream banks. The leaves of this milkweed are notable for being dark green with purplish veins. Suitable companions for this species in Elmira that grow in wet places include swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens), obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana), and false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica).

White flowers of poke milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) in a wooded area.
Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) — homeredwardprice, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Facts about Poke Milkweed

  • Native to New York: Yes, throughout except for northern counties (Kartesz 2015)
  • Native to Chemung County: Yes
  • Natural Habitat: moist woods, roadsides, and edges of woods
  • Height: 2 ft (0.6 m) to 6 ft (1.8 m)
  • Flower Color: white to green with accents of rose, purple, or blue
  • Flowering Period: May to August
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Gardening with Poke Milkweed

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

Previous mentioned as a companion to the poke milkweed, swamp milkweed likes wet soils in full sun or partial shade. However, in a garden setting, this species can handle drier conditions. Swamp milkweed is a fairly tall milkweed, needs space to spread out and is fairly low maintenance. The fragrant pink flowers are a magnet for bees and other insects.

Pink flowers of swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) from Pennsylvania.
Flowers of Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) — Cbaile19, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Facts about Swamp Milkweed

Asclepias incarnata subsp. incarnata and pulchra in New York

  • Native to New York: Yes, scattered (mainly SE) – pulchra, throughout – incarnata (Kartesz 2015)
  • Native to Chemung County: Yes, subsp. incarnata
  • Natural Habitat: shores of streams, lakes, ponds, and other wetlands
  • Height: 3 ft (0.9 m) to 5 ft (1.5 m)
  • Flower Color: pink or red
  • Flowering Period: July to September
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Gardening with Swamp Milkweed

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

If you are looking for a splash of purple in your garden while hosting the monarch butterflies, this milkweed may be for you. In the wild this species is found in moist soils, but can grow in medium well-drained organic rich soils in a garden and can even tolerate droughts, if established. Be sure to have plenty of space for this plant, as it likes to spread and form colonies. Ample spacing will also aid in reducing fungal diseases.

Plant of purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens) with purple flowers.
Plant of Purple Milkweed — Asclepias purpurascens L. observed in United States of America by Jim Bowhay (licensed under CC0 1.0)

Facts about Purple Milkweed

  • Native to New York: Yes, rare and scattered in eastern counties (Kartesz 2015)
  • Native to Chemung County: No
  • Natural Habitat: swamps, woodlands, meadows, and roadsides
  • Height: up to 6 ft (1.8 m)
  • Flower Color: purple, rose to pink, may mature to purple color
  • Flowering Period: May to July
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-8

Gardening with Purple Milkweed

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

If you have dry well-drained soils and some shade, this milkweed may be a good choice for you. In the wild, this species can be found growing in dry woodlands. Four-leaf milkweed has clusters of white to pink flowers and can be grown from seed or cuttings.

Plant of four-leaf milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia) with white flowers.
Four-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia) — Eric Hunt, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Facts about Four-leaf Milkweed

  • Native to New York: Yes, throughout, except for eastern counties (Kartesz 2015)
  • Native to Chemung County: Yes
  • Natural Habitat: roadsides and pastures that have disturbance
  • Height: 1 ft (0.3 m) to 3 ft (0.9 m)
  • Flower Color: white to pink
  • Flowering Period: April to July
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-8

Gardening with Four-leaf Milkweed

6. Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), a Milkweed for Medium to Well-drained Soils

Showy milkweed is a commonly planted milkweed in butterfly gardens around the United States. It is a small to medium sized plant, making it suitable for containers, but whether planted or in a container, it needs good drainage. While not native to New York or to Elmira, it can handle the plant hardiness zone.

Pinkish-white flowers of showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa).
Flowers of Showy Milkweed — Asclepias speciosa Torr. observed in Canada by markeambard (licensed under CC0 1.0)

Facts about Showy Milkweed

  • Native to New York: No (Kartesz 2015)
  • Native to Chemung County: No
  • Natural Habitat: roadsides, fields and woodlands
  • Height: 1 ft (0.3 m) to 3 ft (0.9 m)
  • Flower Color: purple to pink
  • Flowering Period: April to June
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Gardening with Showy Milkweed

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

This milkweed is one of the most common in the midwest and northeastern United States. The large leaves provide ample feeding opportunities for monarch butterflies. Common milkweed is a plant for all conditions and can spread by seed or rhizomes, so it should have some space in the garden.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) with eastern tiger swallowtail.
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) with Eastern Tiger Swallowtail — Author Image

Facts about Common Milkweed

  • Native to New York: Yes, throughout (Kartesz 2015)
  • Native to Chemung County: Yes
  • Natural Habitat: fields, pastures, roadsides
  • Height: up to 6 ft (1.8 m)
  • Flower Color: pink, greenish-purple, greenish-white, to white
  • Flowering Period: June to August
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Gardening with Common Milkweed

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

Butterfly weed is one of three milkweeds in the United States that has an orange colored flower and is one of two that does have a milky sap. The orange flowers this is plant are iconic and make it a favorite as well as its abilities to handle most garden conditions.

Orange flowers of butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) in a garden.
Flowers of Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) — Robert Coxe, Image

Facts about Butterfly Weed

Asclepias tuberosa subsp. interior and subsp. tuberosa in New York

  • Native to New York: Yes, throughout except north – subsp. interior, scattered – subsp. tuberosa (Kartesz 2015)
  • Native to Chemung County: Yes, subsp. interior
  • Natural Habitat: fields, roadsides and open woods
  • Height: 1 ft (0.3 m) to 3 ft (0.9 m)
  • Flower Color: orange
  • Flowering Period: June to October
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Gardening with Butterfly Weed

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

Red-ring milkweed an interesting flower that is white with a red or purple band. This makes the flower an interesting conversation piece and can be grown in full sun and well-drained soils. In the wild, this milkweed is found in thickets and roadsides.

Close-up of white flowers of red ring milkweed (Asclepias variegata).
Flowers of Red-ring Milkweed (Asclepias variegata) — Masebrock, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Facts about Red-ring Milkweed

  • Native to New York: Yes, Long Island and Erie County (Kartesz 2015)
  • Native to Chemung County: No
  • Natural Habitat: thickets and roadsides
  • Height: 1 ft (0.3 m) to 4 ft (1.2 m)
  • Flower Color: white with a ring of purple to red at the base
  • Flowering Period: May to July
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Gardening with Red-ring Milkweed

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

Whorled milkweed has narrow-leaves providing an interesting textual contrast to gardens. If you have average to dry soils and full sun to part-shade this species could live in your garden.

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

Facts about Whorled Milkweed

  • Native to New York: Yes, rare, scattered in western and eastern counties (Kartesz 2015)
  • Native to Chemung County: No
  • Natural Habitat: meadows and fields
  • Height: 1 ft (0.3 m) to 3 ft (0.9 m)
  • Flower Color: green to white flowers
  • Flowering Period: May to September
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Gardening with Whorled Milkweed

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

Green comet milkweed is a milkweed having two different flower colors depending on the age. Thriving in full sun to part shade and average to dry sandy soils, this could be an excellent addition to your garden and provide leafy interest.

Close-up of flowers of green comet milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora).
Flowers of Green Comet Milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora) — Barnes Dr Thomas G, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Facts about Green Comet Milkweed

  • Native to New York: Yes, rare in southeastern counties (Kartesz 2015)
  • Native to Chemung County: No
  • Natural Habitat: meadows and fields
  • Height: 1 ft (0.3 m) to 3 ft (0.9 m)
  • Flower Color: green, aging to yellow with a purple tinge
  • Flowering Period: June to August
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Gardening with Green Comet Milkweed

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

Books where you can find out more about Monarchs and Butterfly Gardening in Elmira, NY

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References for Elmira, NY Milkweeds

  • Urguhart, Fredrick Albert, Norah Roden Urguhart, and Francis Munger. 1968. Population of Danaus plexippus in Southern California. Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera 7(4): 169-181.
  • Woodson, Robert E. 1954. The North American Species of Asclepias L. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 41: 1-211.
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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.