Prairie Milkweed for Monarch Butterflies (and More)
Asclepias sullivantii is commonly known as prairie milkweed or Sullivant’s milkweed and is an excellent host plant for Monarch butterflies – especially if you live in the central US. This is one of the many milkweeds on which the female Monarchs will lay their eggs so the baby caterpillars can eat.
Sullivant’s milkweed is also a popular plant for many adult butterflies because the flowers are an excellent nectar source. Like many milkweeds, this one doubles as a host plant and a nectar plant for the butterflies in your garden.
Characteristics of Asclepias sullivantii
Prairie milkweed is similar to common milkweed but is a little shorter and, although it can spread by underground rhizomes, it is far less aggressive. It is more suitable to garden settings than common milkweed. Medium to wet moisture is preferred but over time it will develop a long taproot and tolerate mild drought.
Sullivant’s milkweed is hardy in zones 3-7 and is an herbaceous perennial. It grows about 3 ft tall, unbranching, and has large leaves with pinkish veining. The flowers are pink and fragrant appearing around June, July, August.
This milkweed prefers full sun and rich loamy soil (like a quality prairie). It is listed as “threatened” in some of the Northern US states since prairies are not as abundant as they used to be.
This is a pretty plant with smooth leaves that are almost succulent-like. It’s prettiest seasons are spring and summer. During dry weather or in the fall as the seed pods develop the lower leaves may start to turn yellow and drop – but no worries, it will reward you with seed and be back next year!
Although it is a major host plant for Monarchs, many butterflies and other pollinators (including hummingbirds) enjoy nectar from the flowers of Prairie milkweed.
Starting Prairie Milkweed Seeds
Prairie milkweed seeds are easy to start as long as you give them 30 days of cold stratification (or sow in the fall/winter). After they are cold stratified (mix with moist sand and place in a baggie in refrigerator), plant them about 1/4″ deep at room temperature and keep them moist. Our seeds germinated easily and quickly (less than 10 days) for us under these conditions. Space or thin plants to about 18 inches apart.
Sullivant’s Milkweed is great for a moist, rich, butterfly garden or a prairie/meadow!