It's the Plants, Darling

Butterfly weed—why not

butterfly-milkweed-1Many of you have heard that 2017’s “Perennial Plant of the Year” is Asclepias tuberosa/butterfly weed. It’s not a surprising choice—attention to attracting and supporting pollinators, especially butterflies, especially monarchs, has been peaking for the past few years and shows no sign of declining. A good thing.

Normally, I pay scant attention to “plants of the year” and all the other marketing ploys (trends, predictions, surveys) put forth by the gardening industry. And, no, I will not be using a trademark symbol anywhere in this post.

But. In this case, the announcement happened to coincide with another email I received, this one from a local nature preserve, Reinstein Woods. Reinstein is holding a native plant sale to benefit the organization (a lovely preserve that features educational outdoor programs all year round, even at this time of year) and help spread the word about the benefits of native plants. Included in the sale is just about every type of milkweed, including this one. I suppose most people grow this from seed, but I don’t do well with seeds, so I am ordering several sets of three (swamp, butterfly, white, maybe common).

At this point, my garden is, as they say, what it is. I won’t be redesigning it, so I’ll just make room in a more-or-less sunny bed and hope for the best. Do I think it will thrive? Not really, not if these prerequisites hold: full sun, well-drained soil, good for meadow garden, best planted in large masses. None of that will be possible; the best sun bed—and it isn’t really all day—I have is already well-inhabited by tall Joe Pye, double rudbeckia and other monsters. I’ll have to pull some out to make room for this. But we’ll see. I’m happy to try to please pollinators even more than I’m doing. At this stage, I tend to take plant failure or success with equanimity, so bring on the PPotY. If they all die, at least I helped Reinstein Woods.

Posted by on January 11, 2017 at 9:51 am, in the category It's the Plants, Darling.
Comments are off for this post

10 responses to “Butterfly weed—why not”

  1. Sandy says:

    LOVE milkweed plants. Sooo much fun to watch caterpillars munching on them. Plus, if you buy organic or native seeds, they will not have been treated with the insect killing pesticides like you find at local garden shops.

    Thanks for a great post!

  2. Cindy says:

    This is an easy plant. You can grow it by sticking seeds in the ground in the winter. Great color, but… It doesn’t bloom very long, and dies off, easily in northern Illinois anyway. Definitely try it.

  3. Marcia says:

    Thanks, Laura!

    I have included some photos and some videos here. (You can click on the little comment icon for a description and roll your cursor over the videos to view. )

    I have but one small corner of my small yard for the common milkweed. It’s all packed in with some other nectar plants, it’s super fragrant from a distance, and a magnet for wildlife. I cut, fertilize and water after bloom, and new leaves burst forth to attract the August arriving monarchs here in the mid-Atlantic.
    I’m not into eggs yet, but I bring them in when I see the young and old caterpillars. They’re safe, warm, and fatten up much faster inside which allows them to develop a week earlier than those outdoors. This is important for their travel as the flowers are fading. A critically important study shows just how important fall gardening is. For me, my real gardening work starts in August.

    I like the common milkweed because the leaves are so much larger. For them, it’s like eating at the local all you can eat buffet as opposed to fighting over the smaller potions at a fancy French restaurant. I have to pull them off the completely devoured swamp milkweed and move them to the common milkweed. If not, they die. If you want to bring a large number inside, then common is the way to go. Easy to clip and wash, large portions, feed only once to twice per day. It involves some work, but imo, the common milkweed makes it so much easier.

    After I retire, I may blog. I’d like to have a blog on super easy succession gardening for pollinator gardeners with small suburban yards in addition to my real interest, a focus on proper farm land use to benefit pollinators.


  4. Pat Hayward says:

    At Plant Select we considered promoting A. tuberosa for 2017 but we have 35+ herbaceous growers, and only a few of them are neonic-free. It seemed too ironic to promote a plant that may have been grown with systemic pesticides that would then prove harmful to the very creatures we were trying to protect. I think all promotions for wildlife-friendly should also include the suggestion that consumers make sure the plants were grown in a manner safe for the insects, too.

  5. Gail says:

    Love the Asclepias family, especially the beautiful orange of A tuberosa… It looks fabulous with the purple flowers of late summer. Like Susan, I’ve found the pretty pink, A incarnata, needs more moisture than I can give it. I am not put off by A syrica’s assertive manner and have planted it where it can take off. I will cut it back after flowering to see if any monarch cats show up! Nashville isn’t on the Monarch Trail ~darn it~but, I do like to provide food for any butterflies that visit my garden and chance to lay eggs.

  6. Laura says:

    I enjoyed your comment, Marcia. Raising 55 monarchs sounds incredible (and difficult!). I would love to see your garden. I am also curious as to how you raise them. (have you ever considered blogging?)
    I must admit I’ve been contemplating growing common milkweed despite my suburban property size, but then again, I am somehow always tempted by aggressive plants with good wildlife value. (I would like to work in cup plant and fireweed too). I introduced swamp milkweed last year, and I think it loved my clay soil, despite the drought we had.

    I imagine the choice of orange milkweed was somewhat related to monarch awareness, but it is also a plant that is neat and exotic looking for the masses. Baby steps 😉

  7. Marcia says:

    Interestingly, the Perennial Plant Association says this about the Plant of the Year:

    “Butterfly weed is a member of Apocynaceae, or milkweed family. is family includes plants with a milky sap poisonous to most insects. Unlike other milkweeds, Asclepias tuberosa contains little sap.”

    So, it really is not the best choice for monarchs. They really need that milky latex toxin.
    And tropical milkweed is getting a bad rap because it is the species on which they evolved.

    Personally, I grow A. syrica.

    It’s hardy. It’s easy. It’s tough. Aphids have a hard time devouring it like they can with swamp milkweed. Thisyear, as suggested by Dr. Tallamy, I cut mine back halfway after bloom. I watered and fertilized. New soft leaves came out. The greatest number of caterpillars I brought indoors was 5 prior to doing this. This year, I brought in 55 and only two were diseased. They were all released in October and November. No seeding. Less spreading when cut back. Tons of food on big leaves.

    So, if the picked the plant for monarch awareness, they really did pick the wrong one.

  8. Elizabeth Licata Elizabeth Licata says:

    Thanks for assuming I have nice soil! :)

  9. Diana says:

    I second avoiding A. syriaca. It’s a pushy plant. But A. tuberosa and A. incarnata (swamp milkweed) are both great plants. I’ve found them to be easy growers that add a nice splash of color and gently reseed in the garden. They don’t like to be moved so plant them and leave them.

    Be warned, though, that is you have a healthy monarch population the caterpillars can eat them down to stalks! A. tuberosa generally comes right back after the caterpillars pupate so it’s a temporary issue.

    Another word of caution – this one about tropical milkweed (A. currisavica). In warm climates it can apparently hold on to disease spores over winter that can then infect the next years’ Monarchs. So cut it back to the ground and compost or get rid of the leaves and stems.

    It’s great to see a native that is so beneficial to wildlife at Plant of the Year! I hope to see it everywhere soon.

  10. Susan says:

    I applaud this choice for plant of the year. If I were you with limited garden space, I wouldn’t plant common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). I let it grow one year in my vegetable garden and by the next year it was taking over. Of course, that is really nice soil, but probably so is your garden. Butterfly weed, on the other hand, is always well-behaved. I actually wish it would spread a bit. The Swamp milkweed is lovely, taller than the butterfly weed, but really wants moist soil.