Sunday, October 7, 2018

Fall Nectar Plants for Monarch Butterflies in North Georgia

I love having flowers any time of year but fall flowers have a purpose as insects fuel up for a variety of reasons: some of them to create the next generation now while others prepare for migration. I won’t be filling my garden with double-flowered mums; I’ve got to choose the right plants if I want to help certain butterflies - like the monarch butterflies. You see, if you watch what’s going on, you’ll notice that some flowers are more popular than others.

Monarch on swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius)

Monarchs Across Georgia, after helping to create a fabulous milkweed resource for Georgia, is now working to create native nectar plant lists by county (in Georgia) for the spring and fall migration seasons. They are encouraging ordinary folks like us to use our observational and investigational skills to take note of what nectar plants monarchs use. For example, turtlehead (Chelone glabra) is blooming now but I don’t think monarchs can take nectar from those flowers.

Observational skills are personal observations. Investigational skills require finding observations reported by other people on sites such as iNaturalist. You don’t even need a login to search iNaturalist, just choose “Explore” and enter your search criteria (be sure to use Georgia, USA). Observations are listed by date (most recent first) and you can scroll through results in the time frame that you want (spring or fall) and then check the location. Plants are not usually identified so you might have to figure that out yourself (most of the reports are on non-native plants because that is what people usually have in their garden: zinnia, tithonia, lantana, etc.).

On goldenrod (Solidago petiolaris)
On blazingstar (Liatris pilosa)

Based on my observations in my own yard as well as Georgia reports that I’ve found in iNaturalist and on Georgia Facebook groups, here is my plant list for late summer/early fall native flowers and I’m going to report these for Cherokee, Fulton, Forsyth, and Cobb counties:

Blazingstar (Liatris spp.) – the later blooming species are absolute magnets for southward migrating monarch butterflies. In my area, the only one left is Liatris pilosa, but I think if I had Liatris microcephala that they’d use it too. I rescued the Liatris pilosa from a nearby construction site, but I see Liatris microcephala for sale at plant sales. Other ones like Liatris spicata and Liatris aspera are done by now.

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) – any species you want to use would be of use to the monarchs (although by now, Solidago odora is mostly finished and Solidago sphacelata might be too). In my area, the following species are blooming: tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima, which is the aggressive one, be warned), gray goldenrod (S. nemoralis), erect goldenrod (S. erecta), showy goldenrod (S. speciosa), wrinkled goldenrod (S. rugosa), woodland goldenrod (S. caesia), and downy goldenrod (S. petiolaris, a personal favorite of mine).

Boneset/Thoroughwort (Eupatorium spp.) – this is one that I hadn’t seen before but several people have reported (with pictures) monarchs on these plants which is fantastic because they are so abundant on roadsides. Boneset (E. perfoliatum) is done for me, but going strong are the thoroughworts: E. serotinum, and E. hyssopifolium are primarily blooming now but earlier flowers of E. album and E. rotundifolium might have been available.

White snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) – formerly a Eupatorium, this is blooming nicely in my area now, so I went looking for pictures of Monarch butterflies using it and found plenty!

Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium spp.) – unless Joe Pye weed was pinched back, it is likely that using it in Georgia for a migration nectar source would be too late. Mine are done and everything that I see on roadsides is done by now. They would only help the earliest of any monarchs coming through. People have posted pictures of monarchs using it for nectar but I don’t think Georgians should rely on it.

Blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) – also formerly a Eupatorium, I have this in abundance so I was thrilled to see several monarchs using it recently (and then several other people posted monarch pictures with it). This is easy to grow and tough as nails; its only downside would be having too much of it if you don’t manage it.

Thistle (Cirsium altissimum and others) – again, this one is on the edge of being available during the heaviest part of the migration. The earlier ones definitely have an opportunity to use this native thistle. This one I found through posts by other people but I was glad to know they use it because this type of flower is perfect for them.

Aster (Symphyotrichum spp.) – there are many pictures and reports that they do love fall native asters like New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), aromatic aster (S. oblongifolium), late purple aster (S. patens), Georgia aster (S. georgianum), and even some of the small white asters.

On blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)

If you’d like to participate in this effort, email your Georgia list (with county/counties listed) to Your efforts will help other people learn about the best native plants to use for supporting monarch butterfly nectar needs. Bonus: many other butterflies and bees use these same plants so you’re helping more than monarchs.

On bushy aster (Symphyotrichum dumosum)

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