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15 Native Milkweeds of Kentucky

Updated: Aug 29, 2023


monarch butterfly on swamp milkweed

Kentucky boasts a diverse array of native milkweeds that add beauty to the landscape and play a vital role in supporting local ecosystems.


This article will explore 15 fascinating milkweed species that call Kentucky home, covering their unique characteristics, ecological significance, and the benefits they bring to our environment.


Let's get started.


Why Are Milkweeds Important?


Milkweeds are crucial in conserving monarch butterflies, whose populations have declined by 90% in the last 20 years.


As the sole host plants, milkweeds are the only plant monarch butterflies will lay their eggs on. As the eggs hatch into caterpillars, the milkweed leaves are used as food, enabling the transformation of the caterpillars into magnificent butterflies.


You can help reverse the fortune of monarch butterflies by planting milkweed. Their nectar-rich flowers will also attract numerous other pollinators to your garden.


Native Milkweeds of Kentucky


There are many milkweeds native to Kentucky. However, some are more common than others at native plant nurseries.


For each milkweed in this list, we'll mention if it's common at local native plant nurseries, only available online, or not commonly for sale.


It's imperative to only plant native species and avoid planting non-native milkweeds.


1. Common Milkweed


Common Milkweed

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a well-known native milkweed found in all regions of Kentucky. It's characterized by its tall, sturdy stems, broad leaves, and clusters of fragrant pale pink flowers. It's one of the easiest and fastest milkweeds to establish, which is one of the reasons it's become so popular among gardeners.


commonly for sale at local nurseries
Common Milkweed plant info


2. Butterfly Milkweed


Butterfly Milkweed

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a stunning native milkweed that adds vibrant bursts of orange to the Kentucky landscape. Its upright stems bear clusters of vivid, showy flowers, making it a favorite among gardeners as a landscaping plant.


commonly for sale at local nurseries
Butterfly Milkweed plant info


3. Swamp Milkweed


Swamp Milkweed

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is an attractive milkweed species that thrives in Kentucky's swamps and wetland habitats. With its slender stems and delicate pink flowers, it adds a touch of elegance to any rain garden or naturally wet area.


commonly for sale at local nurseries
Swamp Milkweed plant info


4. Whorled Milkweed


Whorled Milkweed

Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) is a unique and fascinating native milkweed species found in Kentucky. It stands out with its slender, upright stems and whorls of narrow leaves that create an eye-catching display. Whorled Milkweed is a resilient plant despite its delicate appearance, adapting well to dry, sandy, and rocky habitats.


only available at online nurseries
Whorled Milkweed plant info


5. Green Comet Milkweed


Green Comet Milkweed

Green Comet Milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora) is a distinctive and captivating native milkweed of Kentucky. It has unique greenish-yellow flowers that bloom with a touch of pink, creating a stunning visual spectacle. Green Comet Milkweed's striking appearance and ecological significance make it a valuable addition to native plant gardens.


only available at online nurseries
Green Comet Milkweed plant info


6. Poke Milkweed


Poke Milkweed

Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) is a fascinating and lesser-known milkweed native to most regions of Kentucky. Growing up to five feet tall, it's considerably taller than many other species. Although its flowers are not as showy as some others, Poke Milkweed is still an important food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars.


only available at online nurseries
Poke Milkweed plant info


7. Purple Milkweed


Purple Milkweed

Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens) is a captivating native milkweed species. It stands out with its stunning clusters of deep purple-pink flowers, adding vibrant color to the landscape. In addition, this species is highly attractive to pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds.


only available at online nurseries
Purple Milkweed plant info


8. Green Antelopehorns


Green Antelopehorns

Green Antelopehorns (Asclepias viridis) is another unique and visually striking Kentucky milkweed species. Its green, purple, and white flowers bloom in clusters, creating an intriguing and memorable sight. Green Antelopehorns is mainly native to central Kentucky.


only available at online nurseries
Green Antelopehorns plant info


9. Tall Green Milkweed


Tall Green Milkweed

Tall Green Milkweed (Asclepias hirtella) is a notable native milkweed of Kentucky. As its name suggests, it stands tall with its slender leaves and delicate clusters of greenish-white flowers, creating a graceful presence in the landscape. Like most milkweeds, Tall Green Milkweed blooms in the summer and attracts a variety of pollinators.


only available at online nurseries
Tall Green Milkweed plant info


10. Redring Milkweed


Redring Milkweed

Redring Milkweed (Asclepias variegata) is a distinctive milkweed species of Kentucky. Its unique feature is the striking red or purple ring encircling the base of its white flowers, adding a touch of vibrancy to the plant. While not commonly for sale, it could be grown from wild seeds or potentially acquired from a local native plant swap group.


not commonly found for sale
Redring Milkweed plant info



11. Clasping Milkweed


Clasping Milkweed

Clasping Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) is a unique and visually striking native milkweed species of Kentucky. It's known for its distinctive leaves that clasp the stem, giving it its common name. With clusters of small, pink-purple flowers, Clasping Milkweed attracts a variety of pollinators, including bees and butterflies.


not commonly found for sale
Clasping Milkweed plant info


12. Aquatic Milkweed


Aquatic Milkweed

Aquatic Milkweed (Asclepias perennis) is a unique native milkweed that thrives in Kentucky's wetland habitats and floodplains. Its adaptation to aquatic environments sets it apart, as it can withstand periods of flooding and fluctuating water levels. Its seeds have even adapted to float on water and be dispersed by flood events, unlike most milkweeds' fluffy seeds, spread by the wind.


not commonly found for sale
Aquatic Milkweed plant info


13. Four-Leaved Milkweed


Four-Leaved Milkweed

Four-Leaved Milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia) is a distinctive Kentucky native species. It stands out with its whorls of four leaves that give it a unique appearance among milkweeds. Its small clusters of pale pink-white flowers add a delicate beauty to the garden, attracting various pollinators.


not commonly found for sale
Four-Leaved Milkweed plant info


14. Carolina Milkvine


Carolina Milkvine

While not in the Asclepias genus, Carolina Milkvine (Matelea carolinensis) is in the milkweed family and can still support monarch butterflies. Its heart-shaped leaves and clusters of small, burgundy flowers create a charming and distinctive appearance in the garden. As a native vine, it could make a great addition grown next to an arbor.


commonly for sale at local nurseries
Carolina Milkvine plant info


15. Honeyvine Milkweed


Honeyvine Milkweed

Honeyvine Milkweed (Cynanchum laeve) is another vine in the milkweed family. While it's not typically for sale, seeds are intermittently available online. Honeyvine Milkweed can be a very aggressive grower, especially in disturbed soil. So, if you decide to plant it, ensure it's in an area where you don't mind that it spreads.


not commonly found for sale
Honeyvine Milkweed plant info


Conclusion


The native milkweeds of Kentucky hold an important place in the state's natural landscape and ecological tapestry.


From the well-known Common Milkweed to the lesser-known Four-Leaved Milkweed, these plants offer beauty and play vital roles in providing habitat for monarch butterflies, supporting various pollinators, and contributing to the overall health of local ecosystems.


By incorporating these native milkweed species into our gardens and conservation efforts, we can actively preserve Kentucky's rich biodiversity and ensure a sustainable future for both wildlife and humans.


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