by Asher Guzik, Assistant Nursery Manager
The foundations of any monarch butterfly garden undoubtedly rests on our native milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), as these are the only plants monarch caterpillars can eat. As many of you know, California native milkweeds are strongly winter dormant and will not be available to plant until late spring or early summer (though you can start seed now; see our earlier blog post). Though you may have to wait to plant milkweed, there is something you can do for monarchs now: plant nectar sources for adult monarch butterflies.
Unlike their caterpillars, adult monarchs are generalist feeders, and they need varied nectar sources year round. Below is a list of monarch nectar plants available now in our nursery. In addition to providing nectar-rich flowers for monarchs, these colorful natives support many other butterflies, bees, birds and other wildlife.
Large Shrubs/Small trees
Arctostaphylos spp. and cvs. (manzanita) – White to pink flowers November-March on beloved evergreen shrubs with characteristic red bark.
Berberis spp. and cvs. (barberry, Oregon grape) – Yellow flowers February-May. Great barriers and bird plants, as well.
Ceanothus spp. and cvs. – Spectacular clusters of white to deep blue flowers January-April. Fast growing and evergreen.
Cephalanthus occidentalis (button willow) – Interesting white flowers May-September and beautiful fall color. Likes moisture and is great for heavy clay soils.
Chilopsis linearis ssp. arcuata (desert willow) – Beautiful light pink to deep magenta flowers May-September on this fast-growing small tree.
Prunus ilicifolia (holly-leaf and Catalina cherry) – Sturdy big shrubs with white flowers from March-May, glossy evergreen leaves and edible cherries.
Rhus spp.. (sumac, lemonade berry, sugarbush) – Evergreen shrubs that make excellent, long-lived hedges with light pink flowers February-May.
Baccharis spp. and cvs. (coyote brush, broom) – Tough, upright shrubs or groundcovers with bright green foliage and cream blooms July-November.
Corethrogyne filaginifolia (sand aster) – A low, silver-leafed groundcover with lavender/purple, daisy-like flowers July-November.
Encelia californica (California bush sunflower) – Intermittent waves of showy yellow flowers atop mounds of bright green leaves.
Ericameria spp. and cvs. (goldenbush) – Late bloomers with fine foliage and masses of deep yellow flowers July-November.
Eriodictyon spp. and cvs. (yerba santa) – Upright shrubs with fuzzy leaves and purple, Phacelia-like flowers April-June. Will spread to form colonies.
Ribes aureum var. gracillimum (golden currant) – Bright yellow flowers February-May, followed by delicious black berries. Summer dormant.
Salvia spp.and cvs. (sage) – White to purple flowers March-June on these easy, fragrant shrubs.
Sphaeralcea ambigua (apricot mallow) – Bright orange blooms February-July (or longer) on a tough desert plant.
Verbena spp. and cvs. – Mounding or low-spreading with clusters of light to dark purple blooms almost year round.
Cirsium occidentale (cobweb thistle) – Spiky-leafed, silver rosettes topped with magenta flowers March-July. (Biennial = lives for two years.)
Erigeron glaucus (seaside daisy) – A green groundcover/perennial with pink to lavender daisies May-July.
Monardella species and cvs (coyote mint) – Fragrant perennials with white, purple, or red flowers May-August. Leaves can be used in tea.
Please see our on-line Native Plant Database for more plant info, our weekly inventory for current availability, and the Xerces Society for more about Western monarchs and nectar plants.
Happy to see the article on beyond milkweeds, especially since I am missing the database! Gratifying to see some of my chosen plants will be of interest to adult monarchs and I look forward to planting the baby milkweeds. I put out some seed but don’t know if they will germinate. One would think so with these rains. We shall see.
I recently moved to the high desert (near Mojave). I’m glad some of these plants appear to be good in this climate. If I plant milkweed, will it grow here? Thanks!
There are several species that are native to your area, so yes, milkweed should grow. You could keep an eye out on our online inventory for Asclepias erosa or A. subulata, two native species we have carried in the past.
I’ve heard that Solidago velutina ssp. californica (California Goldenrod) will also attract Monarchs. Any truth to this? And does TP carry this plant?
Solidago is a good nectar plant for monarchs, and is in stock now.
This blog is so concentrated and nice!
Milkweed is highly toxic to pets, so please plant with a barrier to pet access. A friend of mine lost her dog within 2 days of ingesting the plant
I have two catapillers on one milkweed plant and they will have no leaves left very soon. help what can I feed them. or what will they continue to eat? Its only March here in Santa Paula ca.