Originally published in Smoky Mountain Living Magazine, Gardener’s Corner (a Q&A series for gardeners by Chris Smith).
One of the best ways to attract monarch butterflies to your garden is to plant milkweed. In addition to providing nectar for numerous other pollinators, milkweed is the food source for baby monarchs (caterpillars!). Since a hungry monarch caterpillar increases its body mass about 2000 times as it grows, the more milkweed you have, the better!
While there are 73 species of milkweed in the United States, the founder and director of Monarch Watch, Dr. Chip Taylor, states “about four of these species – Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed), Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed), Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed) and Asclepias viridis (green antelope horn) – sustain 98% of the eastern population of monarchs.”
Many butterfly habitat gardeners, including Nina Veteto of the Asheville based nonprofit organization, Monarch Rescue, report that monarchs typically prefer to lay their eggs on the common milkweed.