How can a gardener dislike Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)? In my mind, "weed" doesn't even belong in the name (of course, that can be said of many plants, under various conditions).
As I considered which plant to highlight this month, and as an entry in Gail's Wildflower Wednesday meme, I chose this one--even though it's not blooming in my garden currently. In fact, it hasn't even emerged from the soil yet. (Smart plant: We'll have three nights with freezing temperatures this week, after two full weeks without a freeze.)
I chose this plant for its merit as a lovely garden focus and because it's a Milkweed (Asclepias)--the grouping, or genus, of plants that serve as host plants (food) for Monarch caterpillars. As you consider which new perennials to add to your garden this spring, consider Butterfly Weed.
This plant can take time to establish, but once it does, I think you'll be pleased.
It's stunning planted among other garden blooms, as shown here with Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis). I also enjoy it alongside purple and blue flowers and foliage--complementary colors to its bright orange.
Even the seed pods that form in the fall are graceful, soft, and colorful.
I started my own patch with seedlings purchased from a local garden center.
They bloomed the first year. If you start this plant from seed, expect blooms after a few years. Butterfly Weed has a long taproot, so it doesn't like to be moved. Also, consider planting several seedlings together, so the caterpillars have plenty to eat.
Don't be surprised if your plants look a little ratty at first. That can mean the Monarch caterpillars are eating them (yay!) and/or that the plants are settling into your garden, which can take a little time.
Here are a few basic characteristics, as described by the North American Butterfly Association and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center:
- USDA hardiness zones: 3 to 9
- Bloom period: mid- to late summer
- Height: 12 to 36 inches
- Spread: 24 to 36 inches
- Light exposure: sun
- Soil moisture: average to dry
- Native range: much of North America (see links for specifics)
- Attracts: butterflies, hummingbirds, other pollinators
- Resistant to: deer, rabbits
- Larval host to: Grey Hairstreak, Monarch, and Queen butterflies
|Tropical Milkweed (A. curassavica)|
Butterfly Weed tends to be orange in color, but ranges from bright yellow to deep orange. It can be confused with Tropical Milkweed (A. curassavica), which has similar coloring, but isn't native in the U.S. and Canada.
Much discussion has centered around the pros and cons of planting Tropical Milkweed: To read about it, click here. Tropical Milkweed isn't a problem in northern gardens. But Butterfly Weed is just as beautiful, and its native range extends through much of North America. Plus, it survives drought and severe winters. In my northern climate, Tropical Milkweed dies back and must be repurchased each year, while Butterfly Weed simply goes dormant and re-emerges year after year. To me, it's a no-brainer to go with the native species. (Here's a link to find other native Milkweeds for North American gardens.)
Oh, and the name is right: It does attract butterflies--Monarchs, and many others (including Great-Spangled Fritillaries).
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(Congratulations to Ricki at Sprig to Twig for winning the drawing for the homemade oriole feeder!)