When you’re out flower shopping this season, don’t forget to add a member or two – more is better -- of the asclepias family, better known as milkweed, to your shopping list.

Unlike the many beautiful butterflies that feed on a variety of plants in our gardens, the leaves of the milkweed family (asclepias) are the only plants the caterpillars of the beloved and endangered monarch butterfly feed on, so they are crucial to the survival of these magical winged beauties.

The showy Michigan native perennial butterfly milkweed Asclepias tuberosa, with its lovely clusters of orange flowers, makes an attractive addition to containers as well as garden beds. It not only serves as a host plant for the monarch, it’s also a great nectar source of many other butterflies and is deer resistant.

Another attractive Michigan native asclepias is the swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) that rises 3 to 4 feet in height and produces clusters of fragrant pink to mauve flowers in summer. While it’s at home in wet areas and rain gardens, it also grows well in sunny borders.

Asclepias have very deep taproots that resent disturbance so take care when transplanting them from pots.

Because of the destruction of habitat, the common milkweed we remember as kids (Asclepias syriaca) is becoming harder to find even in the wild.  However, I don’t recommend planting them in city gardens, as once established they can become quite invasive and due to that deep taproot they’re hard to eliminate.  

One of the interesting plantings in the Stone House Garden at the OPC in Rochester is our Certified Monarch Butterfly Waystation – a collection of plants made up almost solely of Michigan natives dedicated to create, conserve and protect a monarch habitat. See for more info.  

Master gardener Sandy Niks, a passionate gardener and environmentalist, adopted a sunny weed-filled patch at the side of the little stone house and almost single-handedly turned it into a thriving monarch butterfly haven. Sandy’s garden includes more than 30 varieties of Michigan native species with fascinating stories of their importance to the monarch and our ecosystem.

During the Rochester Garden Club Garden Walk from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., on June 21, Sandy will be on hand in her Monarch Way Station Garden at the OPC Stone House  Garden in Rochester to greet visitors and introduce them to her collection of Michigan natives.

Tickets for the walk are $12 in advance and $16 the day of the walk. For information and tickets, visit the RGC garden walk website at .  

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at

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