With its 4-inch wingspan and vibrant black and orange pattern, the Monarch butterfly is easy to recognize in the garden. However, Monarch population numbers have experienced a steady and dramatic decline during the 21st century due to habitat loss and weather extremes. Every flower gardener can provide a link on the chain of life of this threatened butterfly by including plants that support the Monarch's annual reproductive cycle.
01 of 07
Don't mistake goldenrod as the culprit for your allergies—the plants are often confused with ragweed, which blooms at the same time as goldenrod. Goldenrod plants depend on pollinators such as butterflies and bees to carry off its large, heavy grains of pollen, whereas the dusty pollen of ragweed is easily dispersed by the wind.
The flowers of ragweed aren't showy, compared to the vivid gold clusters of flowers produced by goldenrod plants. 'Fireworks' is one of the best-behaved goldenrod selections for well-manicured gardens.
02 of 07
The name says it all: The butterfly bush attracts Lepidoptera species of all types, including Monarch butterflies. The spikes of many small tubular flowers allow Monarchs to cling easily while drawing nectar from the many small tubular blooms. Furthermore, the long blooming season of this perennial shrub gives Monarchs a reliable supply of nourishment as they complete their long migration.
03 of 07
As a member of the daisy family, cosmos flowers are appealing to Monarch butterflies because of their abundant flowers and rich nectar stores. Although a cosmos blossom looks like one flower, it is actually made up of many different tiny tubular flowers surrounded by a ray of petals.
Cosmos flowers are one of the easiest annuals to grow from seed; just broadcast them on the top of the soil early in the spring, and Mother Nature will tell them when the temperature is right for germination. The flowers are extremely drought- and heat-tolerant, but they will also bounce back after a light frost.
04 of 07
Even if your flower garden is limited to the smallest balcony, you can attract Monarchs with the prolific lantana plant. These plants are usually sold in full bloom, meaning you have an instant source of nectar to offer to your foraging Monarchs.
Grow lantana in full sun to prevent problems with powdery mildew. Lantana thrives in well-drained soil, and its salt tolerance makes it a great choice for the beach cottage. Choose sterile cultivars that don't form berries for the longest bloom time.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Your grandma's favorite landscaping shrub belongs in your contemporary landscape to attract monarchs. Not only are today's modern lilac hybrids more mildew-resistant than ever before, but newer cultivars like 'Tiny Dancer' are compact. Some, such as 'Bloomerang' even offer a repeat blooming cycle to satisfy hungry butterflies.
06 of 07
Without milkweed plants, there can be no Monarch butterflies—it's as simple as that. Plants in the milkweed Asclepias family are essential to adding the chemical to Monarch larvae that make them unpalatable to predators. In fact, this adaptation has been so successful for Monarchs that the Viceroy butterfly has evolved to mimic the color pattern of the Monarch in hopes of evading predators.
Choose the native A. tuberosa, a long-blooming orange perennial that's easy to grow from seed. If you're more drawn to pink flowers, try A. incarnata in moist soils.
07 of 07
Large butterflies like the Monarch enjoy wide-open spaces, which allow them to glide through the landscape unhampered. Zinnias are a frugal way to fill up large areas of the garden, and one packet of zinnia seeds yields the promise of a happy nectar site for Monarch butterflies all summer long. If you choose red and orange types, you're apt to draw hummingbirds as well.
“Assessing the Status of the Monarch Butterfly.” US Fish and Wildlife Service. Fws.gov. N.p., n.d. Web.
“Monarch Butterfly Nectar Plant Lists for Conservation Plantings.” Xerces Society. Xerces.org. N.p., n.d. Web.
University of Minnesota Extension Office. "Creating a butterfly garden.” Umn.edu. N.p., n.d. Web.
“Attracting Butterflies to the Garden - 5.504 - Extension.” Colostate.edu. N.p., 30 July 2015. Web.
"How to Build a Pollinator Garden.” US Forest and Wildlife Service. Fws.gov. N.p., n.d. Web.
Lott, Terasa. “If You Build It, They Will Come: Attracting Butterflies to Your Yard.” Clemson.edu. N.p., 15 July 2019. Web.