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Planting for Monarchs

August 18, 2020

By Christie Brodie, Interpretation Projects Coordinator, Royal Botanical Gardens.

The bold and beautiful Monarch butterfly is a welcome guest in any garden. As an insect, Monarchs go through metamorphosis, changing dramatically as they grow from an egg to an adult butterfly. Throughout their life cycle, they need different host plants to help them survive.

Monarch Caterpillar on Milkweed
As a caterpillar, milkweed plants are a Monarch caterpillar’s only food source.
Monarch Chrysalis
As a chrysalis (or pupa), a caterpillar needs shelter to protect itself against predators.
Monarch Butterfly in Flight
As an adult, a Monarch butterfly needs nectar-rich plants for food throughout spring, summer, and fall. Females need milkweed plants to lay their eggs on.

These changing needs make Monarchs vulnerable should they be unable to find the plants they need during each life cycle stage. Thankfully, more and more Monarch-friendly habitat is being added to gardens, yards, and being restored in nature sanctuaries.

Below are just some of the beneficial plants that support this at-risk butterfly throughout its life cycle.

Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

Male Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

These pale purple, tube-like flowers are a great early summer nectar source for Monarchs. When planted alongside milkweed, they may entice a Monarch to stop by your garden to lay eggs.

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Common Milkweed is the preferred variety of milkweed in our area by Monarchs. Their globe-like blooms smell sweet and are visited by a variety of pollinators, like bees and other butterflies.

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Monarch Butterfly on Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Swamp Milkweed flowers are in flat clusters to attract adults. Caterpillars will munch on the leaves. These plants tend to grow near wetlands and prefer soil that stays moist.

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Monarch Butterfly on Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Butterfly Milkweed is a smaller milkweed plant. Their bright orange blooms contrast beautifully compared to the pale pink of the Common and Swamp varieties. This variety is loved by Monarch adults and caterpillars.

Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida)

Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida)

The texture of the spiky centre of this native meadow plant is preferred by butterflies, like Monarchs, since it gives them a surface to rest on while drinking the nectar. Coneflowers are a great drought-resistant plant.

Dense Blazing-star (Liatris spicata)

Dense Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)

This unique, tall, purple flower is a pollinator favourite. The deep tube-like flowers attract butterflies and moths who hover to sip on the sweet nectar of this mid-summer bloomer.

New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)

Monarch Butterfly on New England Aster

The clusters of these lovely purple flowers pop when a bright orange Monarch stops for a snack. These tall late-summer blooms are a favourite nectar source for butterflies.

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)

Monarch Butterfly on Goldenrod

This late-summer bloomer is often confused with ragweed. Although ragweed causes seasonal allergies, goldenrod does not. Their later season blooms are an important nectar source for migrating Monarchs headed to Mexico.

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