Monarch butterflies cannot survive without milkweed – it is the only source of food for their larvae (caterpillars).  Monarch females lay their eggs solely upon milkweeds, and the larvae eat the plants. This makes them specialist herbivores, which means there is no other option available to them.  When monarch larvae feed on milkweed, they sequester toxins within their bodies called cardenolides, which provide a defense against predators.  These toxins give the larvae and adult butterflies a bad taste.  When a predator such as a bird tastes a monarch, it will learn to associate the bright coloration of monarchs and their larvae with the bad taste and will avoid preying on them in the future.

Milkweed seeds commonly available include Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), and Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa).

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, habitat loss and fragmentation as well as pesticide use has impacted the availability of milkweed to monarchs. Monarch populations have decreased significantly as a result. Many organizations, agencies, private companies and individuals are working together to bring back habitat for the monarch, which includes planting milkweed species. There are 73 species of native milkweeds in the United States, and monarch utilize about 30 of these regularly.

The milkweed varieties and butterfly mixes shown here are all available from Applewood Seed to counteract the loss and fragmentation of milkweeds for monarchs. We are also continuing research on seed production of additional varieties of milkweeds in order to get more species into the seed marketplace.  These trials include Green Milkweed, Antelope Horn, and Broadleaf Milkweed.