For butterflies & fragrance, choose common milkweed!

by Connie Oswald Stofko

flower on common milkweed in Amherst NY
The flowers on common milkweed are pretty– and fragrant, too! This was in summer in the garden of Dan Murak in Snyder. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

If you like butterflies, you probably have a kind of milkweed called butterfly flower (Asclepias tuberosa). You may even have swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).

Consider adding common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) to that mix.

Not only is it a plant that monarchs love, it gets a pretty flower– and it’s fragrant!

Dan Murak pointed out the fragrance this summer when I visited his landscape, which was shared on the Snyder-CleveHill Garden View.

Another thing I like about common milkweed is that it gets a few feet tall, and every garden should have some tall or tallish plants.

Oh, and it gets those cool pods in late summer!

common milkweed
Common milkweed gets interesting pods in late summer. This is in the Amherst garden of Connie Krueger. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Gardeners seem to be hesitant about this plant. Maybe it’s the name. Nobody wants a “weed” in their garden, and fancy is better than common. Would common milkweed spark more interest if it was called “dazzling butterfly castle” or something more inspirational?

Except for the name, the drawbacks to common milkweed are miniscule.

Murak found that his common milkweed plants tended to sag. He remedied that by simply attaching a string to his fence to support the plants. Murak started his plants from seeds he got from a neighbor and has many plants in a neat group along a fence.

Connie Krueger of Amherst, who shares her landscape on Open Gardens, has common milkweed that started as a volunteer. She acknowledges that it does spread. Krueger lets it grow where it wants, but if you get more than you want, you can pull out the extras.

How to get common milkweed seeds

seeds fluff milkweed pod winter in Depew NY
Winter winds scatter the seeds of the common milkweed in Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve & Environmental Education Center in Depew. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

If you haven’t been lucky enough to have common milkweed show up in your garden and you don’t have a neighbor with seeds, there are other ways to get seeds.

Look for plants growing along the road. You may find common milkweed in parks, too, but get permission before collecting seeds from parks or private property.

Check out seed libraries and seed or plant exchanges. I don’t know whether any of these have common milkweed seeds available now, but perhaps someone will donate some soon.

Find great information on how to collect common milkweed seeds here from You can also buy seeds from them.

Seed Savers Exchange also has Asclepias syriaca seeds.

How to plant common milkweed seeds

Common milkweed has to go through a period of cold. There are several ways to make that happen. Find information on how to plant common milkweed seeds outdoors in autumn and winter. You can also start the seeds indoors in spring.

16 Comments on “For butterflies & fragrance, choose common milkweed!

  1. Hi Susan, I have admired Asclepias syriaca in other people’s landscapes, but now I’m rethinking my decision to plant it. It’s planted next to my neighor’s fence. They have lawn along the fence, so mowing would keep it in check, but I don’t want this cool native plant to turn into a nuisance. Maybe I will stick with the other milkweeds. Thanks for your input.

  2. Be very careful of where you plan the Asclepias syriaca. This plant spreads by underground roots that can travel quite far from the original plant. I had one pop up in my garden and thought “great” I figured it would clump and I would keep it where it was. Well the next year I had it all over the garden, not spread by seeds, but by the big long roots, some perhaps 4 feet or more from that first plant. The network was extensive and it was very difficult to remove. Took at least 2 years to get it all out.

  3. To Meredith, First of all butterfly bush is not native. It does provide nectar but no habitat for ANY butterfly larva. The only plant you mentioned that cold be a larval host for the monarch would be the asclepias. Perhaps next season add lots of swamp milkweed if your site is appropriate. There simply may not have been enough plants for the monarch to lay eggs. Don’t feel too bad though as I didn’t have any larva this year either!

  4. Hi Connie, I expanded my pollinator garden this spring ( several butterfly bush, different salvias, Asclepius, zinnias, sunflowers, herbs etc) and when the monarchs showed up mid-July we had constant visitors. The only problem- even though I have several varieties of Asclepius I saw no signs of eggs or caterpillars☹️. Very disappointed because I wanted to do more than just enjoy for one season. Any ideas? Thanks

  5. Pruning clematis depends on the variety. Check which variety you have. Some bloom on buds formed this fall (don’t prune) and others on new growth next spring (can prune). If you’re unsure which variety you have look through pictures on line to hep ID.

  6. should clematis be cut down in the fall; if not, when. also how far should they be cut down. thank you

  7. The field milkweed can be very invasive both through seed dispersal and root runners. It took me years to get rid of the patch I had. It was replaced with swamp milkweed and butterfly weed neither of which is as invasive.

  8. Hi Brian, not invasive, but aggressive. (See the difference here.) It’s common milkweed, the one I discussed in this article. I have been trying for three or four years to get it established in my yard, so my experience is that it isn’t aggressive. Perhaps I am underestimating how aggressive it can be.

  9. Is there a variety of milkweed that is invasive? A neighbor plants it for the monarch butterflies but I have found it in my yard several homes away and notice it other yards.

  10. Hi Lyn, thanks for this information. I have swamp milkweed growing in a large pot, but I’m going to transplant it to a wetter spot in my yard. I don’t think I watered it often enough in that pot.

  11. Swamp milkweed ( Aschlepias incarnata) is often overlooked because of it’s name but it is not as aggressive as the field milkweed. It will grow nicely in the average garden, doesn’t need a swamp. Swamp milkweed is also preferred by the monarch as the flower is flat and the leaves are easier for the larva to eat (they aren’t as thick). Its seed pods are thin and upright, a nice sculptural look in the fall garden.

  12. Thanks for this info about milkweed…we do have some here.
    We have many patches of dead grass, the result of Army Worms. Crows and moles are eating them, but the damage is unbelievable! Has it, the Army Worm infestation, hit your yard? Our Turf Tenders tech has used insecticide on the entire lawn.

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