Native Plants Monarchs Love

A monarch butterfly visits blazing star in the glade garden. Photo by Kristina DeYong.

In July 2022, the International Union for Conservation of Nature officially designated the monarch butterfly as an endangered species. The IUCN Red List, of which the Garden is a contributing partner, is considered the world’s leading authority on conservation status of species.

The designation is a big step for monarch conservation, but also left many people asking what they can do to help. One solution for anyone with a yard is to grow native plants that attract monarchs. Milkweeds are the most common plant associated with monarch butterflies, but adult monarch butterflies feed on nectar from a wide variety of late summer and fall blooming plants to help fuel their long distance flights. 

The Missouri Botanical Garden’s William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening recommends the following native plants with later bloom periods that you can add to any garden to create a rest stop for migrating monarchs.

Great ironweed, Vernonia arkansana. Photo by Justine Kandra.

Great ironweed, Vernonia arkansana
Also called curlytop ironweed this plant is known for unique, twisting bracts that surround the unopened flower buds.
When it blooms: The bright, purple flowers of this species bloom from mid-summer to mid-fall.
Pollinators it attracts: Bees and skippers, and monarch butterflies.
Size: Mature plants will reach around 3-5 feet tall with a 3-4 foot spread.
Growing tips: This plant will thrive in full sun and can be grown in both moist soils as well as drier soils. In general, the more moisture this ironweed receives, the taller the stems will grow. The stems can also be cut back in late spring to reduce their ultimate height, although this will delay blooming slightly.

Showy goldenrod, Solidago speciosa. Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden’s PlantFinder.

Showy goldenrod, Solidago speciosa
This clump-forming species of goldenrod is not as aggressive as other goldenrods, which spread by underground rhizomes. It can be used in both naturalistic prairie gardens as well as mixed perennial borders
When it blooms: The upright stems are topped with dense, cone-shaped panicles of bright yellow blooms from mid-summer to early fall.
Pollinators it attracts: Bees and butterflies, including monarchs.
Size: Mature plants will reach around 3 feet tall with a similar spread.
Growing tips: Best sited in a location with full sun and well-draining soil that stays on the dry side.

Blazing star, Liatris aspera. Photo by Tom Incrocci.

Blazing star, Liatris scariosa
Sometimes called northern blazing star or savanna blazing star, this species is not very common in the wild in Missouri, but can be found in rocky, woodland openings and glades in the eastern and southern portions of the state.
When it blooms: Fluffy pinkish-red flower heads bloom from August to October.
Pollinators it attracts: Birds, hummingbirds, and butterflies, including monarchs.
Size: Mature clumps will reach 2-4 feet tall and 1-2 feet wide. 
Growing tips: Although it is not common in the wild, it does well in our region as a cultivated plant and can make a good addition to a rocky or dry garden area with good drainage and plenty of sun. Similar to great ironweed, the ultimate height of this blazing star is partially dependent on how much moisture is available. Excess moisture or nutrients may cause the stems to flop, and stakes can be used to keep them upright.

Blue lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica. Photo by Eric Anderson.

Blue lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica,
This lobelia provides a welcome, cooling shade of blue to perennial borders, native plantings, or rain gardens.
When it blooms: The spikes of blue, tubular flowers bloom from mid-summer to early fall.
Pollinators it attracts: Bumblebees, digger bees, long-horned bees, and monarch butterflies
Size: Mature clumps will reach 2-3 feet tall with a 1-1.5 foot spread.
Growing tips: Best grown in a partly shaded location that stays fairly moist but still has good drainage. Although blue lobelia is considered a short-lived perennial, clumps can be divided to encourage new growth and plants will self-seed if the growing conditions are right.

Justine Kandra, Horticulturist
Catherine Martin, Public Information Officer

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