August 15, 2013

Plant of the Month: Whorled Milkweed

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This diminutive plant is somewhat nondescript...from afar.

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In a field surrounded by tall grasses, Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)--at 1 ft. to 2 ft. tall--tends to blend in.

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But if you look closely, it's a rather lovely, delicate plant. Like other Milkweeds, the umbels of its closed flower buds open to distinctive-shaped blooms with a unique pollination structure.

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It's an attractive plant in all stages of development--from emergence to budding to full bloom. And it's hardy in USDA zones 4-8.

Plus, it has the added benefits of being a larval host for the monarch butterfly and it's recognized by pollination ecologists as attracting large numbers of native bees, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

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Whorled Milkweed is toxic to livestock and horses if eaten in large quantities. It grows best in dry sandy, clay, or rocky soils, and in sun or part shade, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It's not the best plant for my garden, but ... maybe I can find a place for it. (These photos were taken on our "wild" lake property to the north.)

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When you look down through the foliage, you can see how Whorled Milkweed got its name. Frankly, I'm a bit fascinated with it at the moment.

(I'm linking this post to Dozens for Diana and Foliage Follow-Up. Thanks, Diana and Pam, for hosting these excellent memes!)

38 comments:

  1. I have my eyes scoped out for milkweed pods . . . I use them in my fall bouquets with dried Queen Anne Lace pods, cat tails and purple Tumbleweed . . . plus more!

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    1. Sounds lovely! I'd love to see some samples. I'll check out your blog for fall ideas.

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  2. Any plant that is a host for monarchs is a favorite with me! Thanks for the plant portrait.

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    1. Yeah, this one is so different, I didn't even know it was a Milkweed until I found out about it in one of my wildflower books. It doesn't seem like there's much there for the caterpillars to eat, unless there's a grouping of them together.

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  3. Good post. I was under the impression that whorled milkweed flowers were more green, rather than white. It's tempting me as well.

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    1. Thanks. The flower buds are mostly green, and there are definite hints of green on the flowers. But when they're fully open, they look like white lace. Very pretty.

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  4. Thanks for the info, yet another plant from you I know nothing about! My garden is not really suited for large drifts of wildflowers (I wish!) ....where would I put them! But I can admire them on photos and dream :-)
    Take care, Helene.

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    1. I know--I wish I could fit everything in my garden, too. The Milkweeds have been considered weeds here in the U.S. for a long time. But now that the monarch butterflies are disappearing (only genus the caterpillars eat), hopefully they'll get a little more respect. I think this one, in particular, is lovely. Of course, it's a problem for cattle and horses. :(

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  5. Very nice find. I need to find this plant, anything to help the monarchs on their journey.

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    1. I was pleased to find it on our second property. We kind of let a former mowed field go wild several years ago, and over time it filled in with trees and wildflowers--including lots different species of Milkweed! You can order A. verticillata seeds at Prairie Moon Nursery.

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  6. Milkweed is a pretty plant, it would look great in groups to show off it's foliage more.

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    1. I agree, Karen. I think several plants massed together would be prettier. But I was glad to find it growing "wild" on our property, too.

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  7. Well, we certainly have the right conditions for this plant, but I don't think it grows here..a shame.

    Jen

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    1. Hmmm...interesting. BONAP's resource for native Asclepias species might be helpful to identify which ones are native in your area. :)

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  8. I have lots of orange milkweed but struggle to grow the swamp milkweed because it needs so much moisture. I'm glad this wild variety has seeded itself into your meadow. Have you seen any monarchs yet?

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    1. That's so interesting, Tammy. I've had the opposite experience here. We had such a moist spring and early summer that the A. tuberosa struggled, while the A. incarnata bolted and seems quite happy in its spot in dappled shade/sun. Now that we're hitting a dry/hot spell, maybe the orange Butterfly Weed will resurrect itself. We'll see. Yes, I saw lots of monarchs up at the meadow in June. It's full of at least three species of Milkweed. I've only seen a few monarchs here in my shady garden--but it's always a thrill when they visit!

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  9. I love a milkweed of any kind! The white bloom on this one is pretty. Doesn't look as big as the "Ice Ballet' variety I grow but maybe because it's native?? I've been seeing a few Monarchs in the garden ~ I hope they are leaving eggs behind. Last year I didn't have any cats. :( Have a great weekend!

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    1. I think I appreciate all of them except Common Milkweed (A. syriaca). I have to be honest and say it looks messy to me--especially at the end of the season. But I learned this year that the monarchs actually prefer Swamp Milkweed, which seems to grow well in my garden. Yay! Keep us posted on your monarch catts. I've seen evidence of them (frass and chewed leaves), but I guess they're too small for me to see so far.

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  10. Pam's English Garden was excited, because she saw her, first and only, Monarch. It seems so sad not to support a migratory butterfly. SUCH a huge achievement for a mere butterfly to migrate! I need to support our non-migratory African Monarchs.

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    1. Well said, Diana! I've seen many of them at state parks and up at our cottage property. My home garden is shady, which isn't the best habitat for butterflies. But I have seen a few, and one monarch spent about an hour in my garden the other day--it was a beautiful sight!

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  11. I love that milkweed. The buds are simply gorgeous. I have not seen that one around here.

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    1. I think so, too, Layanee. It's delicate and unassuming, but as Karen mentioned, a grouping of these plants en masse would be lovely. Some of the other Milkweeds take up more real estate with just one or two plants--they're all fascinating, though.

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  12. I can see why you are fascinated, really interesting structure.

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    1. Embarrassingly, I hadn't heard much about it until this year. We've probably had it growing up at the cottage for years and I didn't even notice. The structure is fun, isn't it?!

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  13. I love milkweeds, but so far they have eluded my attempts to grow them by seedlings not returning over winter. But I got a plant this year, A. tuberosa, so I hope it will make it, I put it in a raised mound surrounded by large rocks for drainage. Very interesting post.

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    1. That sounds like the perfect spot for A. tuberosa. Mine has been struggling--probably because we had so much rain during the spring and early summer. I think A. tuberosa is my favorite--although I really like A. incarnata and A. verticilatta, too.

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  14. I'm sure I've seen these growing in the wild, but had no idea what they were. Thanks for introducing me to it!

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    1. Sure! I didn't know about them until recently either, Rose. I would think they would be very happy in your garden--with lots of sun and nectar plants all around. :)

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  15. I love this plant and have been meaning to add it to the meadow...will make sure I do as your pictures certainly show it off beautifully.

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    1. Thanks, Donna! Yes, I imagine it would be very happy in your meadow, too! Perfect habitat, and it's native to your area, too. I'll look forward to future posts about it!

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  16. I will have to look for it at the parks. It looks familiar, but like you said, it would look nondescript surrounded by the grasses.

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    1. Yes, I don't seem to see it as much as Common, Swamp, and Butterfly Weed. I haven't seen any Monarchs on it either, although they seem to love Swamp Milkweed!

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  17. This milkweed reminds me a lot, in overall stature, of our native narrow-leaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis). Very similar leaves. I like the white flowers though, and even in bud they're beautiful. Ours blooms a more medium pink, but I think the two of them would look lovely together. Unfortunately, so far, all ours has attracted is those prolific little golden yellow milkweed aphids. Not a butterfly in sight!

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    1. I looked up A. fascicularis, and yes they do seem similar. The only Milkweed in my garden that has attracted Monarchs (that I've noticed) is the Swamp Milkweed. One Monarch spent a good hour on mine a couple of weeks ago. I haven't seen any catts, though. :(

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  18. Have seen this little fellow over the years but would have never identified it as an asclepias. Can imagine monarchs need to do a little more hunting to find them than the orange or yellow but guess we'll never know.

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    1. Yes, I'd think they'd be hard to see. But maybe a field of them, and near other species of Milkweed, would be pleasant for the Monarchs.

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  19. How often I have been taken by the beauty of a plant that, unless observed closely, could easily be unappreciated. But the butterflies, of course, know better! Your photos are lovely.

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    1. Thank you, Deb. Sometimes I have to remind myself to take it slow and look up or down or very close in to the beauty around. We are so blessed, if only we can appreciate the very simple things.

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