Monarchs and milkweed go together. You rarely hear monarchs mentioned in a conversation without milkweed coming up at some point. That's because milkweed is the monarch's larval host plant, which means monarchs cannot complete their life cycle without it. The toxic, milky, white sap found in the leaves, stems and pods of milkweed plants, which monarch caterpillars (larvae) feed on throughout their five larval stages (instars), protects them as they grow and develop in a very harsh environment. Once they have gone through all five instars, they are highly toxic and pass that toxicity on to the adult butterfly. Those bright colors exhibited on both the larvae and adults are a warning to predators to steer clear because this meal is going to taste really awful and possibly make them sick.
Plant milkweed. Currently, all species of native milkweed are disappearing from the landscape due to habitat loss, pesticide use and climate change. Without these plants, we will lose our most iconic butterfly. Planting native milkweed can help bring back monarchs and also help other pollinators in the process. If you would like to plant milkweed and be part of the solution, please check out these awesome sources to find milkweed species that grow in your region. Supplies vary by distributor and time of year. Xerces Milkweed Seed Finder Grow Milkweed Plants Milkweed and Wildflower Vendor Map
Remember to only plant native milkweed! Non-native species, like tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) are not good for monarchs and should be avoided. Learn more about the dangers of tropical milkweed, and what Xerces Society recommends here.
Visit Our Identification Guide to Monarchs and Their Life Cycles and North American Milkweed Species! For photos and videos of all stages of a monarch's life cycle, check out our Monarchs page, then head over to the Milkweed page (which is a work in progress) and watch for a new species to be added every Friday. Eventually, we will include all 70 plus species of milkweed found in the United States and Canada.