Got Milkweed?

If you are reading this, doubtless you know the Golden Rule of Biodiversity: plant milkweed. Please. No, I take back the “please”. Just do it. Even if you garden on only a balcony, grow some milkweed in a clay pot. However you manage it (ie “float” its diaphanous seed in the parkway or the alley), be a guerrilla biodiversifier and…plant milkweed.

You know why I am pushy about this plant: because its leaves are the only thing that Monarch butterflies can eat. As noted entomologist Doug Tallamy says, “To have butterflies, we need to make butterflies. To make butterflies, you must use a native species that serve as a host for butterfly larvae [Ed: that’s a caterpillar] as well as a supply of nectar for adult butterflies. Butterflies do not lay their eggs on any old plant. They lay their eggs only on the plant species to which their larvae are adapted”. And that means…Milkweed.

You even have choices when it comes to which milkweed, but three species are commonly available in garden centers or via seed packets:

The Common milkweed [Asclepias syriaca], which has husky leaves, roots that grow to China, and a handsome dusty rose globe of a flower. [If you are worried about this being too aggressive, look for its cousin, Sullivant’s milkweed, which grows slowly, albeit by rhizomes, which means its good in tough-to-grow-anything-else spots. Nonetheless, I like the Common milkweed in gardens–it provides a tall, solid, almost tropical contrast although you might have to tie it up with a strong shoelace.]

 

Common Milkweed flowering pattern

Common Milkweed flowering pattern

The Butterfly weed [Asclepias tuberosa], which has flowers the extravagant color of a Navel orange, does well in dry, “crappy” soils, and makes a great bouquet;

Common Milkweed / Asclepias syriaca

Common Milkweed / Asclepias syriaca

The Red or Swamp milkweed [Asclepias incarnata] has a two-toned pink flower, narrow leaves, and a pleasing way of gracing a moist spot–especially nice en masse if you have a lake edge to landscape.

Swamp milkweed [Asclepias incarnata]

Swamp milkweed [Asclepias incarnata]

And if Monarch’s weren’t good enough for you, at least 11 other species of butterflies and moths reproduce on milkweed as well. Goldfinches eat the insects that get trapped in the flowers and also use milkweed seed “down” for nesting material, and you may see (good) beetles on the plants as well. Biodiversity can be easy if you try!

Milkweed pods and the seeds that float on the air...

Milkweed pods and the seeds that float on the air…

Okay, I’ll be nice again. PLEASE plant milkweed someplace on your property. Or your balcony. And now I won’t be nice: if you work for a municipality, we gardeners expect to see milkweed growing everywhere around town. It’s the law.#

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Conservation and Ecology, Landscape Architecture, Plants, Uncategorized

5 Responses to Got Milkweed?

  1. Martha Drummond

    Lovely photographs of milkweed. I never knew this about milkweed. Have had so many different butterflies in my yard this summer feasting on phlox. I will go out and see if I can purchase some milkweed plants. Thanks for this information.

  2. Stephi

    I was recently given some milkweed seeds at a Butterfly talk. I will definitely be planting them in the spring! Thanks for the reminder.

    • weedpatchgazette

      Thanks, Stephigardens, for leaving a comment. Milkweed seeds germinate best after at least one month of being cold and moist, so you’ve got choices when sowing. Obviously, planting them outdoors in the fall is the easiest, followed by sowing them outside in cold, still wintery February or March. OR you can pot them up (put the pot in a plastic bag), leave them in your cold garage or fridge all winter and then let them sprout in early spring.#

      • Stephi

        Thanks for the advice! Silly questions, but why the bag if I pot them over the winter? Is it to keep it moist? Do you seal it? Do they transplant ok?

  3. Jill Selinger

    Not to mention the flowers of the common milkweed are wonderfully fragrant!

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