- Lighting, Production April 2017 Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly Weed By Catherine Whitman and Erik Runkle
- Plant of the Week
- Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa L.)
- 1992 Butterfly Weed (Asclepias Tuberosa)
- Butterfly Weed Seeds
- Attract Butterflies To Your Garden With Milkweed!
- Butterfly Weed Seeds – Asclepsias Tuberosa Milkweed Flower Seed
- Growing Butterfly Weed Plants: Tips On Butterfly Weed Care
- Butterfly Weed Characteristics
- How to Grow Butterfly Weed
- Butterfly Weed Care
- Butterfly Weed (Clay Form)
- Tips and Tricks
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Lighting, Production April 2017
Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly Weed
By Catherine Whitman and Erik Runkle
By Catherine Whitman and Erik Runkle
Several species of milkweed, or asclepias, are native to North America, and this year the Perennial Plant Association has chosen one of them as Perennial Plant of the Year: Asclepias tuberosa. This species, commonly known as butterfly weed or butterfly milkweed, has vivid orange flowers with nectar and pollen that are attractive to many species of butterflies and bees. The foliage of butterfly weed is not a preferred food but can support monarch caterpillars. This drought-tolerant plant grows best in a dry and sunny location, and is hardy in Zones 3 to 9.
Butterfly weed has upright stems with clusters of bright orange flowers that contrast nicely with the shiny green leaves. The stem sap is not milky, unlike others in the genus. This species of milkweed does not spread by runners like common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) does, so it is not invasive. Butterfly weed is not attractive to deer; however, aphids can be a problem in garden settings and in the greenhouse.
Demand for this plant is likely to be high in this and coming years. Butterfly weed will flower readily the first year after seed sowing, but there are a couple of key points for success in producing it commercially.
This species has some of the most dramatic responses to photoperiod we’ve seen. It is an obligate long-day plant, meaning that it requires long days for flowering. Plants grow rapidly under photoperiods of 14 hours or longer, and will begin flowering about eight to nine weeks after transplant when grown at an average of 68° F. However, if exposed to photoperiods of 12 hours or shorter, plants go dormant within a few days (Figure 1, pictured above). Leaves become droopy, shoot growth apparently ceases, and existing flower buds may abort (Figure 2). Unfortunately, simply moving the plants back to long days will not restore them to active growth. To break this dormancy, a cold treatment of nine weeks or longer is needed; in our trials, all dormant plants exposed to 41° F for 15 weeks subsequently flowered.
To keep plants actively growing, it is absolutely essential to provide long days to these plants. We recommend providing a day length of at least 16 hours, or four hours of night interruption lighting. Photoperiodic lighting should deliver a minimum intensity of 2 μmol·m–2·s–1. Use lamps that provide both red and far-red radiation, like incandescent lights or LED bulbs designed to control flowering. Keep plants under these long photoperiods until natural daylengths are at least 14 hours long.
Butterfly weed develops a large tap root, which can make transplanting or division of established plants difficult. In container production, it’s very important to use a well-drained medium, so consider adding extra perlite to a typical peat+perlite mix. Be careful not to over-water during production or during cold treatments. The taproot is attractive to fungus gnat larvae, so be vigilant and check the roots if plants lack vigor.
In outdoor settings, butterfly weed can reach 3 feet in height, but in container production, our plants were 12 to 18 inches tall at first flowering. Several plant growth retardants are reportedly effective for height control including sprays of daminozide (e.g., B-Nine, Dazide) paclobutrazol (e.g., Piccolo, Bonzi) and uniconazole (e.g., Sumagic, Concise). Using several plugs per pot, or pinching seedlings soon after transplant, can help to fill out containers.
Catherine Whitman and Erik Runkle
Erik Runkle is professor and floriculture Extension specialist and Catherine Whitman is research technician in the department of horticulture at Michigan State University. Erik can be reached at . We thank former MSU graduate students and faculty who contributed to generating this information.
Plant of the Week
Asclepias tuberosa range map. USDA PLANTS Database.
Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa L.)
By Larry Stritch
Butterfly weed is a member of the milkweed family (Asclepiadaceae). The genus name Asclepias is named after the Greek god of medicine Asklepios. The species name tuberose refers to the tuberous (knobby and with swellings) roots.
Butterfly weed grows commonly in dry open habitats and is very common in the prairies and grasslands of the Midwest and Great Plains. This beautiful native wildflower is found from Maine to South Dakota to the desert southwest to Florida.
Native Americans harvested fibers from the dried stems that were made into ropes and used in weaving cloth. Many tribes used various parts of the butterfly weed as food. In colonial America, dried leaves of butterfly weed and skunk cabbage were made into a tea to treat chest inflammations thus giving butterfly weed an alternative name: pleurisy root. Pleurisy root was listed in the American Pharmacopoeia and the National Formulary until 1936.
Butterfly weed is a coarse perennial forb consisting of many stems. The stems are straight and very hairy. The leaves are alternate and simple. Unlike other species of milkweed butterfly weed does not contain the characteristic thick milky sap but instead has a watery translucent sap. The inflorescence is slightly rounded to flat and made up many individual flowers. The flower consists of five petals pointing down and topped by a crown of five erect hoods. The fruit is a pod containing numerous brown seed each with a tuft of silky white hairs. Many a child and adult have gleefully pulled the seeds from a ripened, opened pod and let them float gracefully on a gentle breeze.
Butterfly weed is commonly planted in formal garden borders and in meadow and prairie gardens. This wildflower does not transplant well as it has a deep woody taproot. It is easily propagated from seed. Collect the seed from the pods has they just begin to open. Butterfly weed seed need a three-month cold stratification. Therefore, it is best to plant the seed in autumn and they will easily germinate the following spring.
For More Information
- PLANTS Profile – Asclepias tuberosa, butterfly milkweed
- See other Plant of the Week Asclepias species…
- Monarch Butterfly: Habitat Needs
1992 Butterfly Weed (Asclepias Tuberosa)
Wildflower of the Year 1992
Asclepias tuberosa milkweed
Orange milkweed, pleurisy-root, orange-root, white-root, chigger-weed
Derivation of Latin name
Asclepias honors Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine; tuberosa means bearing tubers and refers to this species’ habit of growing shoots upward from horizontal underground stems. What may look like a patch of several plants may be branches connected by underground tubers, forming a clone.
Butterfly-weed in bloom is one of our most easily spotted perennial wildflowers. In mid-to late summer the brilliant orange flower clusters stand out vividly along highways and in fallow fields throughout Virginia.
Orange milkweed, as it is also called, has typical milkweed flowers, symmetrical with five petals below an unusual crown, or corona, of petal-like expansions of the fused filaments. Each portion of the corona has a horn curving upward from inside, arching over the center of the flower. The anthers adhere to the stigma, forming a specialized central structure called the gynostegium. Pollen is united into a waxy mass called a pollinium.
The plants grow erect with stems from 5 to 30 inches high. Fuzzy, lance-shaped, nearly sessile leaves are alternate, unlike the opposite leaves of other Milkweeds. The shape and the density of leaves on the stem can vary. Also, unlike other milkweeds, the stems of butterfly-weed do not have milky juice. A young plant may produce just one umbel of flowers at the top of a stem, but often the stem branches to produce broad, flat clusters with several umbels of flowers, each about one-half inch long.
Seed Pod In the fall, these flower clusters are replaced by one or two narrow, three-inch-long seed pods. These pods, standing upright on stems bent downward, split down one side to release light, wafer-thin seeds, each with a gossamer parachute to aid wind dispersal.
Called butterfly-weed because of its attraction for butterflies, this vividly colored wildflower has earned many common names, indicating both its common occurrence and wide distribution. Some of the names reflect associations or ways of recognizing this plant.
Finding butterfly-weed in summer is easy. Watch for the flaming patches of flowers in abandoned fields or pastures and along unmowed rights-of-way. The shade of orange may vary from deep butter-yellow to fiery red-orange. Butterfly-weed thrives in a wide variety of soils from sandy loam to heavy clay as long as the soil is not too wet. Usually the plants are scattered singly or in small groups. Occasionally you may discover a spectacular display where plants have become established at the top of a slope and spread downhill. Since they spread both by seeds and by creeping tubers, large patches may develop where the soil is more fertile and the site is sunny and well drained.
Butterfly-weed really is “weedy” in that it colonizes disturbed areas, tolerates a wide variety of conditions, and persists in spite of grazing, mowing and plowing. Plants along roadsides often are multi-stemmed and appear almost prostrate, with blooms near the ground, as a result of mowing.
Butterfly-weed attracts many different butterflies, especially monarchs and viceroys whose orange and black colors complement the flowers. Although they also draw many other insects, the flowers are pollinated only by wasps that are adapted to butterfly-weed’s intricate flower structure, and some element of luck is also needed. Large numbers of blossoms thus produce very few fruits.
Finding butterfly-weed in the fall or winter is more difficult. The green or ripened brown pods are much less conspicuous. However, watching for the open pods with floss shining in the sunlight or following the path of parachuting seeds upwind will be rewarded. Butterfly-weed pods, less woody than other milkweed pods, tend to flatten out as they dry and curl into interesting shapes.
The showy flowers, although not very fragrant, are quite attractive and long-lasting in bouquets. Picking them early in the season from a large population may be acceptable when plants have time to bloom again. However, avoid picking from isolated plants or removing all blooms from one plant. Picking dry pods for winter bouquets does no harm once the seeds are dispersed. Plants should not be dug from the wild. milkweed
Butterfly-weed is an attractive specimen plant in any garden, especially striking as an accent in a perennial border. The dark green foliage stays neat and attractive through the driest summer. Its colors and low habit blend well with other plants, and it adapts to almost any soil with reasonably good drainage. With a gardener’s attention, less competition and more fertile soil than is usual in the wild, a butterfly-weed plant can become bushel-basket size after several seasons and bloom profusely from July well into fall. Not only will its color brighten the garden, it will live up to its name and attract butterflies as frequent visitors.
Butterfly-weed is most successfully grown from seedlings or seeds obtained from commercial sources. Sow seeds outdoors in spring or summer at least four months before frost. Sown indoors at 68-75 degrees F they should germinate within 21-28 days. Transplant to a permanent location after the second pair of leaves develops. Due to the difficulty of obtaining all of the deep taproot or sufficient tuber to support the plant, mature plants do not transplant well.
Too much water, rich soil, and shade are butterfly-weed’s only enemies. Once the roots are established, it is impervious to burrowing animals, fire, over-zealous picking or cultivation. Unlike some other milkweeds, it does not become invasive and can provide flowers and seed pods for bouquets for many years. The flower clusters dry well in silica gel and hold their color for many months.
Where it grows
Its range extends throughout the East, Southeast and Midwest, from Minnesota and Ontario east to New York, south to Florida, and west to Texas and Arizona. Four distinct subspecies have been defined over this large range. based on variations in leaf shape.
Where to see it in Virginia
You’ll find butterfly-weed blooming throughout Virginia from July well into September along trails, roadsides, in abandoned fields and pastures, and along power-line and railroad rights-of-way. In Virginia most plants have lanceolate to ovate-lanceolate leaves with even margins, but some show variations. According to the Atlas of the Virginia Flora (1986), butterfly-weed may be found in nearly every county in the Commonwealth, under pine trees in the Coastal Plain as well as along the Blue Ridge Parkway or in the pastures and fields of southwest Virginia.
Caution to gardeners!
Gardeners should be sure that butterfly-weed and other native plants purchased for home gardens are nursery-propagated plants, not wild-collected.
For a list of retail sources of nursery-propagated plants and responsibly collected seed, visit our Plant Nursery Page or send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Virginia Native Plant Society 400 Blandy Farm Lane – Unit 2, Boyce, VA 22620.
Text from 1992 Virginia Wildflower of the Year brochure
Catharine Tucker, Author
Mary Pockman, Editor
Edited for Web by Stanwyn G. Shetler, Dec. 12, 1997
Butterfly Weed Seeds
Attract Butterflies To Your Garden With Milkweed!
Understanding Milkweed (Asclepias) Seed & Germinating
Germination: To start Milkweed seed we recommend starting inside, but before this happens Milkweed seeds need to go through a cold stratification period. Cold stratification is very important for the germination and growth of Milkweed. It helps break the seeds natural dormancy cycle. To do this, we recommend placing Milkweed seed in a damp paper towel or damp sand in a zip lock bag and place in your fridge for 3 – 6 weeks (30 days). Place in an area of the fridge, where it won’t get damaged. We taped ours to the bottom of a refrigerator shelf.
Planting In Spring: Once the 30 days are complete, it’s time to plant the cold stratified Milkweed (asclepias) seeds. We recommend planting in 2-4” peat pots. Fill peat pots ¾ of the way with seed starting potting soil and gently add water. Water should be able to drain through the peat pots. Once the soil is damp, place 1-2 cold stratified seeds into each pot. To finish, place 1/4 inch of soil on top of the seed.
Planting In Fall: If you’re planting Milkweed seed in the fall, let nature do the cold stratification for you! There is no need to place your seeds in the refrigerator before planting, you can plant seeds directly into the soil after there have been a few frosts in your area. This allows for the seeds to remain dormant for the winter and come up in the early spring. Clear away any existing growth and using your index finger to measure, create 1.5″ holes for each Milkweed seed. We recommend spacing seeds about 4-6” apart. Place a seed in each hole and cover. Water thoroughly.
Watering: Gently water the planted seed to give additional hydration. The best way to water is from the bottom up. Use a flat pan under the peat pots and add a half inch of water to the bottom of the tray. Don’t over water as it can cause fungus. Water every day or every other day as needed, the best way to test the soil dampness is to touch it. If the soil seems dry then add water; if it’s wet, wait for the soil to dry out to water.
Light Requirements: For the next few weeks, make sure the Milkweed is either in a sunny window, in a green house or under a grow light. Milkweed needs lots of sun and warmth to grow. If you’re using a grow light, make sure to lower the bulb closer to the pots or your seedlings may become leggy, as they stretch to the light. In our experiment, this happened to us. Ideally a sturdier stem is better. Cold stratified seeds should germinate and sprout within 10-15 days once planted. In total Milkweed from the day they are cold stratified to growth can take 40 plus days, so be patient!
Other planting options: Place dry seed (not stratified) in seed starting soil and plant in peat pots under a grow light or in a greenhouse to germinate seeds. The success rate for this is low and more difficult to accomplish. If you choose to use this option it can take months for the seeds to germinate.
If you are planting seed outside, we suggest seeding in late fall, and let the Milkweed seed lay on the ground through winter. Milkweed seed will have a long winter of dormancy, so once the sun comes out and the ground warms in the spring, the seeds will germinate on their own.
Transplanting Milkweed (Asclepias) Seedling Outdoors
Where to Plant: Milkweed does well in open areas with full sunlight exposure areas like fields, parks, cultivated gardens, roadsides, highway medians, and road sides. We suggest transplanting Milkweed when the plant is no larger than 3 inches tall. In most cases in transplanting, the Milkweed plant will go though some shock and could lose all its leaves. This happens, don’t panic. The plant is trying to establish its roots and will eventually grow leaves again. This is the main reason we suggest planting seeds in peat pots, because Milkweed roots are very sensitive. Peat Pots breakdown over time in the ground, which allows the milkweed roots to grows without being disrupted. We found this to be the best way to transplant. If you decide to plant in plastic containers, but make sure it’s deep enough for roots to grow. If you receive a plant already grown in plastic, be careful to take out the plant and not disturb the roots.
When to plant: Soil moisture and temperature are very important when growing Milkweed. The best time to plant Milkweed is in early spring after the danger of frost has passed. If you plant seeds late in the spring, the seeds may not grow due toCommon Milkweed Field Grown germination time and temperature. Common Milkweed seed doesn’t germinate over 85 degrees.
Caring For Milkweed (Asclepias) Plants
Once your seedling is planted, water it for a few days to get it established, but after that, the plant doesn’t need a lot of supplemental water. Only water if you have an unusual dry spell. Peat pots are nice to use, but you need to be sure there is no top edge above the soil line after transplanting. In dry climates, this will wick away valuable soil moisture. A small 2 1/2″ diameter x 3 in. deep pot is ideal. Asclepias are somewhat finicky native plants. So minimizing the time growing in a pot and transplanting them as young plants is the best approach.
Butterfly Weed Seeds – Asclepsias Tuberosa Milkweed Flower Seed
USDA Zones: 3 – 9
Height: 28 inches
Bloom Season: Summer and fall
Bloom Color: Orange
Environment: Full sun
Soil Type: Sharply-drained, even rocky, pH 5.8 – 7.2
Deer Resistant: Yes
Average Germ Time: 28 – 42 days
Light Required: Yes
Depth: Do not cover
Sowing Rate: 2 – 4 seeds per plant
Moisture: Keep moist until germination
Plant Spacing: 24 inches
Care & Maintenance: Butterfly Weed
Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias Tuberosa) – Butterfly Weed flower seed creates a beautiful butterfly-attracting plant. It has bright orange flower clusters that are flat and easy for butterflies to land on and drink the rich nectar. Being a member of the milkweed family, Butterfly Weed, will attract the monarch butterfly as well as other butterfly varieties. Asclepias Tuberosa plants are hardy and drought resistant. The blooms are followed by seed pods 4 – 5 inches long containing the seeds with their long silky hairs. The plant will die back to the root crown each winter, and it is slow to emerge in the spring. The foliage is lovely, too, extending its beauty beyond bloom time.
Many gardeners recommend a cold treatment to help Asclepias Tuberosa seeds germinate more quickly. To do this, dampen a paper towel, place the flower seeds on the towel and seal it in a ziploc bag. Place the bag in the refrigerator for 3 – 4 weeks. After the cold treatment, start the Butterfly Weed seeds indoors. Do not cover the flower seeds as they need light to germinate. Transplant the Butterfly Weed plants outdoors once temperatures are warm and plants have 4 – 5 leaves.
Butterfly Weed care would include following a regular watering schedule during the first growing season to establish a deep, extensive root system. For a neat appearance, remove old foliage before new leaves emerge. Divide clumps every 2 – 3 years in early spring.
Growing Butterfly Weed Plants: Tips On Butterfly Weed Care
What is a butterfly weed? Butterfly weed plants (Asclepias tuberosa) are trouble-free North American natives that produce umbels of bright orange, yellow or red blooms all summer long. Butterfly weed is appropriately named, as the nectar- and pollen-rich flowers attract hummingbirds and hordes of butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects throughout the blooming season. Do you want to know more about how to grow butterfly weed? Read on.
Butterfly Weed Characteristics
Butterfly weed plants are milkweed cousins with tall, clumping perennials that reach heights of 12 to 36 inches. The blooms appear atop fuzzy, green stems, which are adorned by attractive, lance-shaped leaves. Butterfly weed plants spread by way of seeds, which are released from large pods in early autumn.
Butterfly weed grows wild in a variety of environments, including open woods, prairies, dry fields, meadows, and along roadsides. In the garden, butterfly weed looks great in wildflower meadows, borders, rock gardens, or mass plantings.
How to Grow Butterfly Weed
Growing butterfly weed requires very little effort. The plant, suitable for growing in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 9, thrives in bright sunlight and poor, dry, sandy or gravelly soil with a slightly acidic or neutral pH.
Butterfly weed plants are easy to grow by seed, but may not produce blooms for two or three years. Once established, butterfly weed is drought tolerant and blooms dependably from year to year. Also, keep in mind that butterfly weed has long, sturdy roots that make transplantation very difficult, so locate the plant in its permanent place in the garden.
Butterfly Weed Care
Keep the soil moist until the plant is established and showing new growth. Thereafter, water only occasionally, as butterfly weed plants prefer dry soil. Trim old growth every spring to keep them neat and healthy.
No fertilizer is required, and may even harm the plant.
Mealybugs and aphids may cause problems during the blooming season, but both are easily controlled by regular applications of insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.
Butterfly Weed (Clay Form)
Asclepias (Milkweed) are sun loving plants that are essential perennials for monarch butterflies providing food for caterpillars and nectar for adult butterflies. They bloom from mid-summer into early fall and, with their milky sap, are resistant to rabbits and deer.
Asclepias can be divided into two groups for plant care; Asclepias tuberosa with orange (sometimes yellow) flowers and all the other species with pink (sometimes white) flowers.
- Asclepias tuberosa (Orange Butterfly Weed) – this perennial stays dormant until later in the spring than many other plants, especially when grown in pots. It’s fine to plant dormant plants; don’t up-pot them for planting later in the growing season.
Preferred growing conditions:
- Need sandy or gravelly soils (except the Clay form which does well in heavier soils including dry clay.)
- Does best with gravel mulches.
- After their second growing season, only requires deep but infrequent watering. Plant in full hot sun.
- Just a few handfuls of compost and Yum Yum Mix added to the planting hole is enough. Don’t plant into a rich, highly-amended soil.
- When planting dormant plants, water thoroughly after planting and wait to water again until the plant comes into active growth, at which time a deep watering every week or so is adequate. Take care not to overwater young transplants.
- Asclepias has a long, carrot-like tap root that should remain undisturbed after planting and should NOT ever be divided.
Preferred growing conditions:
- These species grow in a wide range of soil types, including clay.
- They don’t need mulching (except in very hot climates).
- These are moisture-loving perennials and do well in wet to moderately moist soil conditions.
- Plant in full to part sun areas.
- They like compost enriched soils at planting time.
- Asclepias syriaca and A. speciosa will spread to make big patches of plants and are best planted in parts of the landscape where they won’t crowd out less vigorous plants. Not recommended for the prime spots in your perennial beds.
- Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) is a more refined grower and is fine to include in perennial beds.
Oftentimes, Milkweeds won’t grow much their first season in the ground, so be patient. They are establishing their root system and crown. By the second growing season, the plants will begin to get bigger and look more robust. Asclepias species are an odd bunch and don’t behave like many other more familiar perennials. So be patient and accept their quirky nature.
- Fertilize Asclepias just once in fall with Yum Yum Mix and Planters II. – Naturalized plantings don’t need additional fertilization.
- To encourage re-seeding and provide winter interest with their ornamental seed pods, leave the stems intact over the winter. In mid-spring, remove old stems just above ground level.
- All species of Asclepias are late to emerge in the spring, so don’t be concerned if other perennials come up first and they remain dormant.
View more Planting Guides, or download ourcomplete Planting Guidefor tips on caring for your plants when you receive your order, as well as planting instructions for Perennials, Spring-Planted Bulbs, Fall-Planted Bulbs, Cacti & Succulents, Xeric Plants and more.
|“||Orange milkweed flowers, used for coughs and lung ailments.||„|
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a vendible good Marston can collect by Plant gathering.
Note: prices listed on this page are based upon the player having neutral honor and playing the game on Normal difficulty. If the player has high honor, the selling price will be Increased by 50% everywhere except Thieves’ Landing. Low Honor decreases selling price by 50% everywhere except Thieves’ Landing. While playing the game on Hardcore difficulty, money is more scarce and the base, neutral honor price of each item will be slightly lower.
It is located in and near the borders of Diez Coronas, eastern Nuevo Paraíso. It is a green, long-stemmed plant with yellow flowers at the top. It is mostly found in dry, isolated areas, or surrounded by short shrubbery like vegetation. They can not be found very close to Agave plants. The plant can also be located on the route between Chuparosa and Escalera.
- Eight Butterfly Weed must be gathered to complete Survivalist Challenge Rank 6.
- Two additional Butterfly Weed must be gathered to complete Survivalist Challenge Rank 10.
Tips and Tricks
Start off at Casa Madrugada and run down the railroad tracks to Perdido. There are several Butterfly Weed on this path. Once you reach the end, fast travel to Blackwater and sleep at the saloon for one full day (or just sleep in the home at Casa Madrugada if you’ve purchased it). This allows time for the plants to respawn.
Start the process over until you have reached the desired amount.
Gathering plants and flowers contributes toward the following Trophies/Achievements:
20 gamerscore Bronze bronze Obtain Legendary rank in any Single Player Ambient Challenge.
100 gamerscore Gold gold Attain 100% in the Single Player Game Completion stat.
A perfect plant does not exist, but Asclepias tuberosa, commonly called the butterfly weed, comes close. If the native of the eastern United States tolerated shade – which it doesn’t – it would be perfect.
Still the long-lived herbaceous perennial comes close enough to perfect that the Perennial Plant Association named the butterfly weed its Plant of the Year for 2017.
All members of the Asclepias family support bees, hummingbirds and butterflies – and are essential for the survival of the monarch butterfly. Asclepias tuberosa is the best behaved in polite company.
“Butterfly weeds is a perfect selection for full-sun meadow or prairie gardens, as well as formal to semi-formal urban gardens,” the association said in naming the winner.
My regular readers know this, but I’m including it for those who were drawn in to this column by the pretty picture and catchy headline. Pollinators – a group that includes bees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds – are in trouble. The population of monarch butterflies – which require Asclepias plants for food and laying eggs – is way down. Honeybee colonies are collapsing. Native bees – of which there are more than 270 species in Maine – are also struggling. Part of what home gardeners have to do to help pollinators – without which we cannot produce most fruits and vegetables – is to plant more native, pollinator-friendly plants.
The butterfly weed fits the bill perfectly.
“The butterfly weed is native, attractive, very tolerant of poor soils and pretty undemanding to grow,” said Mary Mixer, a plant grower at Skillins Greenhouse in Falmouth.
The plant produces bright blossoms – usually orange, although they can be red or yellow – on 3-foot stems, and spreads about 2 feet wide. Each flower has five petals that hang down and five upright petals called hoods, the Perennial Plant Association said in its announcement. I never looked that closely, but I intend to when ours bloom next spring.
Butterfly weeds bloom from early spring to mid-July and produce a small fruit, also called a follicle. In a formal setting, gardeners are advised to cut off the spent blossoms to promote a second bloom later in the year and prevent reseeding, but if you are going for a natural-meadow look, let it seed. In either case, it is best to leave the plant standing through the winter and cut it down in the spring.
Young plants produce a single stem, but as the plants age they send up side shoots.
Asclepias tuberosa is hardy to Zone 4, which includes all of Maine except north of Houlton in Aroostook County.
Unlike other Asclepias varieties, tuberosa makes an excellent cut flower – in part because it lacks the free-flowing sap that the other kinds have. You should cut the flower when more than half the flowers are open, because they won’t continue to open once you put it in a vase.
You can plant the butterfly weed either as a plant grown in a nursery or with seeds, but Mixer recommends buying plants. Online instructions for planting seeds say you have to cold-condition the seeds and then start them inside to get flowers next summer. You can plant seeds next spring, but the seedlings look inconspicuous and can be damaged, and you won’t get flowers the first summer.
Because mature plants have a deep taproot, they don’t transplant well – so choose the location carefully.
A spicebush swallowtail butterfly feeds on Asclepias tuberosa, a favorite of bees and hummingbirds too..
The plant has few disease or pest problems; monarch butterflies will chew on the leaves but usually not strip them, as they do with other asclepias. Deer usually leave asclepias alone.
If you want to go all out in helping monarch butterflies, also plant the two other asclepias varieties native to Maine. Common milkweed, or Asclepias syriaca, grows 5 to 8 feet tall, depending on location, in ditches and fields, has large pods of seeds with silky attachments that blow them from place to place. They were everywhere on untended properties when I grew up in Farmington, but I don’t see them as often now – which might be one of the reasons that monarch butterflies are suffering. If you do get monarchs, the leaves will be stripped. It might not be attractive, but it means the plant served its purpose, and it will come back the following year.
If you have a shadier site with moist soil, try Asclepias incarnata or swamp milkweed. It has pink blossoms from June to October and grows up to 5 feet tall.
The butterflies will thank you and butterflies are, as I have read, the flowers of the air.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:
Send questions/comments to the editors.
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