6 Types of Milkweed You Can Plant in Utah (AND One to Avoid!)

“What types of milkweed should I plant in my garden?”

Common Milkweed in Utah

This may seem like a crazy question if you’re just getting started with native gardening. Why would you want to plant a weed?!

 

But milkweed isn’t a weed at all. Instead, it’s a flowering plant that attracts butterflies (think Monarchs), native bees, and other pollinating insects, which is an excellent thing!

 

This article will give you information about common types of milkweed in your area and which ones will be best for your garden. And, keep reading to the end to learn about a kind of milkweed you want to avoid!

 

You will notice a USDA Hardiness Zone for each Milkweed plant in the article. This refers to areas of the US where plants do best, based on temperature. Here is a map showing the hardiness zones of Utah:

Hardiness Zones in Utah range from 4a to 9a.

 

6 Types of Milkweed in Utah:

 


#1. Desert Milkweed

  • Asclepias erosa

Types of Milkweed found in Utah

Growing Information:

  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-11
  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Approximate Mature Size: 1.5 to 4 feet
  • Bloom Time: May to July

 

As the name suggests, this species is commonly found in desert regions. Desert Milkweed often grows on dry slopes and washes. The stems are yellow to green and broader at the base.

 

Identifying this species can be difficult as there’s some variation in the leaves. They grow in pairs on the stem and may be completely smooth or densely covered in cream-colored hair. They’re generally dull grayish or pale to dark green. Desert Milkweed blooms from May to July, forming rounded umbels or clusters of about 20 small flowers atop the stems. The flowers are white, cream, or yellow.

Milkweed species that live in Utah

Desert Milkweed is quite adaptable and can be grown from seed in many home gardens. It needs well-drained sandy soils in areas with low organic matter. It should be planted in full sun. Like other milkweeds, its large taproot gives it excellent drought tolerance.

 

This species is a host plant for the Monarch Butterfly, Queen Butterfly, Clio Tiger Moth, and Euchaetes Zella Moth. The blooms also attract a variety of pollinators, including native bees.

 


#2. Butterfly Weed

  • Asclepias tuberosa

Common Milkweed species in Utah

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Growing Information:

  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9
  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Approximate Mature Size: 2 to 3 feet
  • Bloom Time: May to September

 

Butterfly Weed is a showy member of the milkweed family. Sometimes called Orange Milkweed, this perennial wildflower features large flat-topped clusters of tiny flowers that grow 2 to 5 inches across. The blooms are brilliant orange or yellow.

 

Interestingly, its dark green leaves and stems don’t produce the same milky sap as other species of milkweed in Utah.

 

Butterfly Weed is an excellent choice for gardens and or wildflower meadows. The beautiful flowers are fragrant and are ideal for cut flower arrangements. They also attract native bees, butterflies, and honeybees to your garden. Butterfly Weed is also a host plant for Monarch, Gray Hairstreak, and Queen butterfly caterpillars.

This native flower is a great low-maintenance choice for the home gardener. Butterfly Weed’s deep taproots mean you’ll never need to water it once it’s established. In addition, this plant is highly drought tolerant and thrives in full sun. Butterfly Weed also does fine without any fertilization but grows best in rocky or sandy soil.

 

Unlike Common Milkweed, this species doesn’t transplant well and should be started from seed.

 


#3. Purple Milkweed

  • Asclepias purpurascens

Growing Information:

  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9
  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Approximate Mature Size: 2 to 3 feet
  • Bloom Time: May to July

 

Purple Milkweed is one of the most vibrantly colorful species of milkweed in Utah!

 

It produces a beautiful, rounded cluster of bright purple flowers. The flowers are fragrant and attract various nectar-seeking insects, including Monarchs and many other butterflies.

Sadly, this species of milkweed is considered endangered or of special concern in parts of its range. This beautiful wildflower is an essential host species for Monarch Butterfly caterpillars which feed on the leaves. Look for Purple Milkweed in open woodlands, ridges, thickets, meadows, prairie openings, stream banks, and wet meadows in the wild.

 

In the garden, it’s easy to cultivate in average, well-drained soil. It does well in poor-quality or dry soils and is very drought-tolerant once established. Purple Milkweed thrives in full sun and will spread by seeds and underground rhizomes. It often forms extensive colonies, so make sure you have plenty of space if you choose this milkweed!

 


#4. Showy Milkweed

  • Asclepias speciosa

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Growing Information:

  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-8
  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Approximate Mature Size: 1.5 to 3 feet; occasionally up to 6 feet
  • Bloom Time: May to September

 

As the name suggests, Showy Milkweed features flashy pink and white umbels or clusters of small flowers. The flowers are fragrant, and individual flowers look a bit like crowns. In ideal conditions, Showy Milkweed may grow as tall as 6 feet!

As a garden plant, Showy Milkweed has the benefit of being a less aggressive spreader than most other milkweed varieties in Utah. It can be grown easily from seed or the cuttings of an existing plant. It’s very drought tolerant and can be grown in a wide range of soils.

 

Like other milkweeds, Showy Milkweed attracts native insects and Monarch Butterflies to your yard or garden. Monarchs will visit the flowers for nectar and lay eggs on the plants, which are host plants for the Monarch caterpillars. It will also attract beautiful Queen and Viceroy butterflies to your property!

 


#5. Narrowleaf Milkweed

  • Asclepias fascicularis

Growing Information:

  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 6-10
  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Approximate Mature Size: 1 to 3 feet
  • Bloom Time: June to September

 

Narrowleaf Milkweed, sometimes called Mexican Whorled Milkweed in Utah, is often seen growing in large groups. It has a much more delicate, grass-like appearance than Common Milkweed.

 

It’s most conspicuous when it’s in bloom, from June through September. The blooms are upright clusters of about 20 small flowers. The flowers are variable in color, from greenish to pink, white, and even purple. The thin, spiky leaves are arranged in a spiral around the stem. Beginning in July, seed pods replace the blooms. The seed pods are narrow, thin, smooth, and long. They split down the side and release wind-borne light brown seeds and coma when mature.

 

In the wild, Narrowleaf Milkweed is typically found in the dry climates of plains, foothills, valleys, and roadsides. In the garden, it can be started from seed and is a great low-maintenance plant. It thrives in areas with full sun and is drought-tolerant.

 

This species is a host plant for the caterpillars of Monarch and Queen Butterflies and Isabella Tiger, Clio Tiger, Hitched Arches, and Euchaetes Zella moths Various other pollinators like bumblebees and wasps also visit the plant’s blooms.

 


#6. Swamp Milkweed

  • Asclepias incarnata

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Growing Information:

  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-6
  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Approximate Mature Size: 3 to 5 feet
  • Bloom Time: June to October

 

As the name suggests, this moisture-loving perennial is typically found growing wild on creek banks and ditches or in openings in swamps, bogs, marshes, and other wet areas. So if you’re looking for a plant for the wet spot in your yard, Swamp Milkweed is a perfect choice.

 

This species thrives in wet, mucky clay soils. It’s great for planting around ponds or streams on your property. This species requires full sun to thrive and spreads through both seeds and underground rhizomes.

 

Like other milkweeds in Utah, the blooms are clusters of smaller flowers. The light pink, purple, or white flowers of Swamp Milkweed will attract various species of native bees and butterflies to your garden. It’s also a host plant for monarch butterfly caterpillars.

 


Tropical Milkweed

  • Asclepias curassavica

Growing Information:

  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 8-11
  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Approximate Mature Size: 3 to 4 feet
  • Bloom Time: March to November in temperate climates, year-round in tropical climates.

 

This non-native milkweed plant has become popular in recent years because of its flowers’ bright red coloring and how easy it is to plant and maintain.

 

Unfortunately, Tropical Milkweed planted in Utah may do more harm than good.

 

It carries a parasite of Monarch Butterflies called Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, or OE, which can cause defects in the wings of Monarchs. Since it doesn’t die back and can bloom late, the plant itself may also confuse Monarchs by signaling a breeding season when it’s time to migrate.

To ensure you’re planting milkweed that will help your local ecosystem and attract native pollinators, always choose a native species!

 

Marketers of Tropical Milkweed seeds will use the names Mexican Milkweed, Bloodflower, Mexican Butterfly Weed, Mexican Orange Milkweed, and Semi-Tropical Milkweed. Steer clear of all of these!

 


Are you looking for more information on milkweed in Utah?

 

Check out this guide!

 


Do you have milkweed in your garden?

 

What’s your favorite thing about this plant? Leave a comment below!

 

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