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Plants from the Ground Up

Milkweed – Friend of the Monarch!

Asclepias speciosa

Asclepias speciosa

Asclepias or Milkweed is a wonderful garden plant that not only beautifies your landscape but also provides the much needed nectar and larval food of the Monarch butterfly. These native perennials are adaptable, easy-to-grow and deer resistant. What’s not to love! Asclepias flowers are quite interesting in structure and are designed to attach their pollen to the insects that they attract. The flowers become showy pods in autumn which are filled with seeds that are connected to silky white hairs called the ‘coma’. The milky sap that gives Milkweed its name is also what protects Monarch butterflies from predators. The Milkweed toxins they eat stay in their bodies and makes them very bitter, any predator who eats one will not try another! The Genus Asclepias honors the Greek god of healing Asklepios because of the long history of it’s use in ancient times.

Asclepias incarnata

Asclepias incarnata

Asclepias fasicularis is commonly known as the Narrowleaf Milkweed. Pretty pink to lavender to white blooms grace the clumps sitting above the distinct long very narrow leaves. Asclepias fasicularis is found growing from woodlands to deserts in the western Unites States and Baja Mexico. These easy going perennials can tolerate dry to moist soils and even clay. They do need full sun in order to thrive and are winter hardy to zone 5.

Asclepias fasicularis

Asclepias fasicularis

Asclepias incarnata is commonly known as Swamp Milkweed. Clusters of flowers bloom from bright-pink to white and all the shades in between. Swamp milkweed is found growing in wet meadows and swamps in the eastern and southeastern United States. Easy to grow even in dry soils these are a perfect plant for areas of your garden with poor drainage. Narrow lance shaped leaves and stems exude a toxic sap when they are cut. Asclepias incarnata is winter hardy to zone 4.

Asclepias incarnata

Asclepias incarnata

Asclepias speciosa is commonly known as Showy Milkweed. Beautiful, large clusters of rose-pink blooms on three foot stems are highly ornamental. Asclepias speciosa is found growing in open woodlands, roadsides and dry slopes of western North America. The leaves are broader than most in the genus and are a pretty silver-green. Adaptable to garden conditions Showy Milkweed thrive in dry gravelly soil and full sun. Their showy seed pods are often used in dried flower arrangements. Asclepias speciosa is winter hardy to zone 5.

Asclepias speciosa

Asclepias speciosa

Asclepias tuberosa is commonly known as Butterfly Weed. This cheerful bright orange flower is native to the open woods, fields and prairies of the eastern and southern United States. Butterfly weed is easily grown in full sun and well-drained soil. It can take some drought, but cannot tolerate wet feet. Mature plants may self-sow, however, they are not a garden pest. This Asclepias makes a 1-3 foot clump featuring lance-shaped leaves and hairy stems. Unlike other Asclepias, this species does not bleed the milky sap this genus is known for. A. tuberosa is also called pleurisy root in reference to its medical usage for treating lung inflammation. This species is winter hardy to zone 4.

Asclepias tuberosa ‘Gay Butterflies’

Asclepias tuberosa ‘Gay Butterflies’

The Monarch butterflies are in a devastating state of decline due to habitat loss. There is much that we can do to save these majestic creatures by restoring habitat. The Monarch butterflies are not just beautiful, they are also needed to pollinate wildflowers across the country. Monarchs are also an important part of our cultures.  The Aztec tradition says the souls of the departed come back to us as hummingbirds and butterflies. The Monarchs return to Mexico in time for the Day of the Dead. We can help make sure this beautiful tradition endures.

For more photos and information, see Asclepias at the Forestfarm Store.

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