In Nebraska, there are seven types of milkweed that can be found, each with its own unique characteristics and benefits. The most common type is Common Milkweed, which plays a crucial role in supporting the population of Monarch Butterflies. Whorled Milkweed, on the other hand, stands out with its distinct appearance and serves as a late-season host for Monarchs. If you’re looking for a showy plant that attracts native bees and butterflies, Butterfly Weed is the perfect choice. For those interested in low-maintenance gardens that still attract pollinators, Green Comet Milkweed is an excellent option. Showy Milkweed boasts stunning pink and white flowers and is less aggressive in spreading. Green Milkweed, while growing in large clusters, may not be as appealing to Monarch Butterflies as a host plant. Lastly, Swamp Milkweed thrives in wet areas and is a great choice for planting around ponds or streams. It is important to note that Tropical Milkweed, being non-native, has the potential to harm Monarch Butterflies, so it is best to stick with native species.
Common Milkweed is the most prevalent type of milkweed found in Nebraska. It is a perennial plant that grows up to four feet in height. The stems are sturdy and covered in fine hairs, while the leaves are large and elliptical in shape. The flowers are pink to purple and are arranged in large clusters at the top of the plant. As the name suggests, the plant exudes a milky sap when damaged.
Importance for Monarch Butterflies
Common Milkweed is of great importance for supporting Monarch Butterflies. It is the sole plant that Monarch caterpillars feed on, making it a crucial host plant for their survival. The leaves of the Common Milkweed contain toxins that are ingested by the caterpillars, making them distasteful and toxic to predators. Additionally, the nectar produced by the flowers of Common Milkweed serves as an important food source for adult Monarchs and other pollinators. Without Common Milkweed, the Monarch Butterfly population would suffer greatly.
Whorled Milkweed, also known as Asclepias verticillata, is a unique and visually striking milkweed species. It is a herbaceous perennial that grows up to three feet in height. The plant has whorls of narrow, linear leaves that give it its distinctive appearance. The flowers of Whorled Milkweed are small and white, clustered together at the top of the plant.
Late-Season Host for Monarchs
Whorled Milkweed plays an important role as a late-season host for Monarchs. While Monarchs primarily lay their eggs on Common Milkweed, as the season progresses and Common Milkweed begins to decline, Monarchs will often seek out other milkweed species, including Whorled Milkweed. The caterpillars feed on the leaves of Whorled Milkweed, allowing them to complete their life cycle and transition into adult butterflies.
Butterfly Weed, scientifically known as Asclepias tuberosa, is a vibrant and showy milkweed species. It is a perennial plant that grows up to three feet tall. The stems are erect and covered with fine hairs, while the leaves are narrow and lance-shaped. The standout feature of Butterfly Weed is its stunning bright orange or yellow flowers, which bloom in clusters at the top of the plant.
Attracts Native Bees and Butterflies
Butterfly Weed is a magnet for native bees and butterflies. The vibrant flowers produce copious amounts of nectar, attracting a wide variety of pollinators to the garden. Native bees, such as bumblebees and carpenter bees, are particularly drawn to the nectar-rich flowers. Additionally, the bright colors of Butterfly Weed act as a beacon to butterflies, making it an excellent choice for butterfly gardens and pollinator-friendly landscapes.
Green Comet Milkweed
Green Comet Milkweed, or Asclepias viridis, is a versatile and low-maintenance milkweed species. It is a perennial plant that typically grows between one to two feet in height. The stems are slender and erect, with narrow and lance-shaped leaves. The flowers of Green Comet Milkweed are small and green, arranged in compact clusters at the top of the plant.
Suitable for Low-Maintenance Gardens
Green Comet Milkweed is an excellent choice for low-maintenance gardens. It is highly adaptable to a variety of soil conditions and can withstand periods of drought once established. This makes it a great option for gardeners who prefer a more hands-off approach to plant care. Despite its low-maintenance nature, Green Comet Milkweed still provides valuable nectar for pollinators, making it a win-win for both gardeners and the environment.
Green Comet Milkweed is not only easy to care for, but it also attracts a wide range of pollinators. The small green flowers produce ample amounts of nectar, which is a vital energy source for bees, butterflies, and other insects. Its compact clusters of flowers make it a popular feeding spot, and its presence in the garden helps support local pollinator populations. Furthermore, by attracting pollinators, Green Comet Milkweed helps facilitate the pollination of other nearby plants, contributing to a healthier ecosystem.
Showy Milkweed, scientifically known as Asclepias speciosa, lives up to its name with its stunning and eye-catching flowers. It is a perennial plant that can reach heights of three to five feet. The stems are stout and covered in soft hairs, while the leaves are large and oval in shape. What sets Showy Milkweed apart are its showy pink to white flowers, which form large umbels at the top of the plant.
The flowers of Showy Milkweed are a true spectacle. Sporting hues of pink, lavender, and white, they provide a splash of color to any garden or landscape. The clusters of flowers create a stunning visual display, attracting not only butterflies but also other pollinators like bees and hummingbirds. Showy Milkweed is an excellent choice for those looking to add ornamental value to their garden while providing essential habitat for pollinators.
Less Aggressive in Spreading
Unlike some other milkweed species, Showy Milkweed is known to be less aggressive in spreading. While it reproduces through both seeds and rhizomes, it tends to stay contained in its designated area and does not overpower other plants or take over large portions of the garden. This makes it a more manageable option for gardeners who want to incorporate milkweed into their landscape without worrying about its invasive nature.
Green Milkweed, also known as Asclepias viridiflora, is known for its tight clustering growth habit. It is a perennial plant that generally reaches heights of two to three feet. The stems of Green Milkweed are sturdy and covered in fine hairs, while the leaves are lance-shaped and dark green in color. The flowers emerge in compact clusters at the top of the plant and are typically a green to yellowish-green color.
Green Milkweed has a unique growth habit where the plants form tight clusters. This clustering growth creates a visually appealing display that can add texture and interest to a garden. The vibrant green flowers, while not as showy as some other milkweed species, are still attractive and provide a welcome burst of color. Green Milkweed’s clustering habit also makes it a popular choice for grouping together in garden beds or naturalized areas.
Less Preferred as a Host Plant for Monarchs
While Green Milkweed is a milkweed species, it is less preferred as a host plant for Monarch Butterflies compared to other milkweed varieties. While Monarchs will lay their eggs on Green Milkweed if no other options are available, they generally prefer Common Milkweed as their primary host plant. However, Green Milkweed still provides nectar and habitat for a variety of pollinators and can be a valuable addition to a pollinator garden.
Swamp Milkweed, scientifically known as Asclepias incarnata, is a hardy and adaptable milkweed species. It is a perennial plant that can grow three to five feet tall. The stems of Swamp Milkweed are slender and covered in fine hairs, while the leaves are lance-shaped and arranged in an alternate fashion. The flowers are round and compact, ranging in color from pale pink to deep magenta.
Thrives in Wet Areas
As the name suggests, Swamp Milkweed thrives in wet areas and is well-suited to planting around ponds or streams. It can tolerate periods of saturation and can even withstand brief flooding, making it an excellent choice for gardens with poor drainage or areas prone to standing water. The ability of Swamp Milkweed to thrive in wet conditions allows gardeners to incorporate milkweed into water-rich environments while still providing essential habitat for pollinators.
Suitable for Planting around Ponds or Streams
Swamp Milkweed is an ideal choice for planting around ponds or streams. Its ability to tolerate wet conditions makes it perfect for enhancing the natural aesthetics of these environments. Furthermore, the presence of Swamp Milkweed in such habitats helps attract and support a wide range of pollinators, including Monarch Butterflies. The combination of its beauty and ecological value make Swamp Milkweed a top choice for gardeners seeking to create a vibrant and wildlife-friendly water feature.
Tropical Milkweed, scientifically known as Asclepias curassavica, is a non-native milkweed species. It is a perennial plant that can reach heights of two to three feet. The stems are slender, and the leaves are narrow and lance-shaped. The flowers of Tropical Milkweed are vibrant, with a range of colors including orange, yellow, and red.
As a non-native species, Tropical Milkweed may not be the best choice for supporting Monarch Butterflies. It originated in tropical regions and does not naturally occur in Nebraska or other parts of the United States. While Tropical Milkweed can still attract Monarch Butterflies and other pollinators, it is important to be cautious when planting it. It has been found that the prolonged presence of Tropical Milkweed, especially when grown year-round, may disrupt the natural migratory patterns of Monarch Butterflies and lead to the spread of diseases among the populations.
Potential Harm to Monarchs
One issue with Tropical Milkweed is that it can provide a breeding ground for a parasite called OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha) that affects Monarch Butterflies. When Monarchs lay their eggs on Tropical Milkweed, the caterpillars can become infected with OE, which can negatively impact their health and reproductive success. To avoid potential harm to Monarchs, it is recommended to choose native milkweed species instead.
Choose Native Species
To support the health and conservation of Monarch Butterflies and other native pollinators, it is crucial to choose native milkweed species over non-native ones like Tropical Milkweed. Native milkweeds have co-evolved with local pollinators and provide the best habitat and food sources for them. By selecting native milkweeds and creating pollinator-friendly landscapes, gardeners can play a vital role in preserving the delicate balance of nature and ensuring the survival of Monarch Butterflies for generations to come.