If one of your garden goals is to have blooming nectar plants all year long, this list can help you get started. It’s Master Naturalist Brenda Larison’s short list of her favorite native wildflowers that monarchs like to nectar on. According to Larison, all provide nectar for butterflies and other pollinators. Most require full sun. Milkweed generally blooms mid-season.
Wild white indigo (Baptisia lactea)
Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea)
Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum)
Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata)
Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
Spotted beebalm (Monarda punctata)
Prairie blazingstar (Liatris pycnostachya)
Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)
Later Season Bloomers:
Stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida)
New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
Spotted Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium maculatum)
Fragrant hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
Why is milkweed so important?
Milkweed is critical for monarchs because it is the sole host plant for the female to lay her eggs and the hatched caterpillar’s food source, says Brenda Larison, University of Illinois Extension certified Master Naturalist and Lincoln Memorial Garden’s resident monarch expert.
“Milkweed blooms also provide nectar for the adult butterflies,” says Larison.
In November and December, Larison works with Miller and the Greenhouse Volunteer Crew to stratify the milkweed seeds collected from the Ostermeier Prairie. Stratifying simulates winter and involves wrapping the seedlings on wet paper towels, then storing them in baggies in a refrigerator for 60 to 90 days. By mid-January, it’s time to plant the seeds in tiny pots to get them ready for the plant sales.
“Yes, I’m into milkweed but equally important are nectar sources, native wildflowers that monarchs can nectar on into the fall, such as aster and zinnia,” says Larison. “Monarchs particularly need these to build up fat to survive the 2,000-mile journey south and their eight months of winter in Mexico.”
Larison leads free monarch education programs for Lincoln Memorial Garden each year. Two monarchs tagged and released at Council Ring 3 have been found in Mexico by Monarch Watch.
To learn more about native plants and see how they grow throughout the seasons, stop by the demonstration garden near the Ostermeier Prairie parking lot. It is a project of the University of Illinois Extension Logan/Menard/Sangamon Unit Master Naturalist and Master Gardener volunteers in partnership with Lincoln Memorial Garden.