Posted by Donna | Posted in Fertilizer Friday, Garden, Mother Nature, Native Plants, Nature Notes, Simply the Best, Summer, Wildflower Wednesday, Wildlife | Posted on 24-09-2012
Tags: abundance, butterflies, environment, garden, Native Plants, summer
“Just living is not enough,” said the butterfly.
One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”
Hans Christian Andersen
One of the most beautiful and beneficial plants you can have in your garden is milkweed; any one of the Asclepias or Asclepiadaceae family. Why is that? Well for the monarch butterflies of course. Without enough milkweed planted, the monarch population will dwindle and be in serious jeopardy. I have Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) all growing for the monarchs. And what better plant to highlight for the wonderful meme Dozen for Diana@ Elephant’s Eye, and for Gail@Clay and Limestone’s equally wonderful Wildflower Wednesday.
And while my three milkweed are very similar, there are a few differences. Color of bloom is one difference (see picture at end of post). Common milkweed is purple, Swamp milkweed is pink and Butterfly Weed is orange or yellow. And in a garden, milkweed flowers will produce a beautiful fragrance especially the Common milkweed. The flowers show up from June to August. Swamp milkweed grow the tallest from 3-4 feet, Common are next topping at about 2-3 feet and Butterfly Weed is a shorter bush usually about 2 feet tall.
These under utilized plants prefer sun but can tolerate part shade in the garden. They also love moist soil although Butterfly Weed will do nicely in dry locations. If you want a drought tolerant milkweed, Butterfly Weed is the way to go. I have found they all prefer amended loamy or sandy soil, but Swamp milkweed tolerates wet clay and loves to sit right in water. Common milkweed will run rampant if allowed so be careful to take off the seed pods if you don’t want them all over. Actually Common milkweed and Butterfly Weed can be seen in groups along the roadside. I have found that they were hard to find several years ago, but they seem to be making a come back which is a delight for the monarchs and me.
Another great thing about this plant is it is deer resistant. The only downfall I see with milkweed is that it attracts aphids. But where there are aphids in the garden there are ladybugs. Of course you can blast the aphids off with water.
Some Asclepias produce seeds in pods arranged in overlapping rows. The seed is attached to silky white hairs. When the pods ripen they split open and the seeds are blown on the wind.
The sap of this wetland Swamp milkweed is less milky than that of other species. Common is the milkiest and Butterfly Weed is not milky at all. If you are looking to attract butterflies and especially monarchs you want to plant milkweed in your butterfly garden.
Asclepias is native to most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. There are over 100 known species of milkweed. It was one of the earliest North American species described in Cornut’s 1635 Canadensium plantarum historia, the first book of Canadian flora.
The genus was named by Linnaeus in 1753 in honor of Aesculapius, Greek god of medicine, because some species have long been used to treat a variety of ailments. The Latin species name means flesh-colored.
Common milkweed is also known as Silkweed, Milkplant, silk grass, common silkweed, cottonweed, milkweed, wild cotton, Virginia-silk, and silky swallowwort.
Butterfly Weed has also been called Butterfly milkweed and Orange milkweed. Swamp milkweed is also called Pink milkweed to denote the flower color.
The name Milkweed comes from the plant’s milky juice or sap that flows when the any part of the plant is cut. The milky juice contains alkaloids, latex, and several other compounds thought to be toxic.
There are many interesting uses for milkweed. The hairy silk filaments have good insulation qualities, are six times more buoyant than cork and have shown to be five times as warm as wool and warmer than down feathers. During World War II, over 5,000 tons of milkweed filaments were collected in the United States and used. And starting in 2007, milkweed has been grown commercially as a hypoallergenic filling for pillows.
Candle wicks are also made of the milkweed silk which is said to burn cleaner than cotton wicks.
Interestingly Common and Swamp milkweed can be eaten, but not Butterfly Weed. The young shoots, leaves, flower buds and immature pods are all edible raw. The idea that they are bitter or toxic is said to be a myth. The plants can be cooked like asparagus or battered and fried or used like okra in soup with no special processing. Of course they warn that the milky sap is toxic in large quantities. Milkweed sap can also cause mild dermatitis.
The main use for milkweed is as a larval host for butterflies and nectar source for many pollinators, butterflies and hummers. When the milkweed sap is absorbed by monarch larvae they are toxic to birds and other predators. Monarch butterflies cannot complete their life cycles without milkweed.
Butterfly Weed is also the larval host for Grey Hairstreak, Monarch, Queen butterflies and Swamp milkweed is larval host to Queen butterflies.
And there are numerous beetles, moths and other bugs who feed on these plants.
Native Americans have had many uses for milkweed. Milkweed has a high sugar content and was said to be used as a sweetener. Some used the roots as a contraceptive. The root was chewed for dysentery while the dried leaves were smoked in a pipe to relieve asthma. A common folk remedy was to use milkweed for clotting, poison ivy and removal of warts.
Butterfly Weed is also known as Pleurisy Root because Native Americans chewed the root as a cure for pleurisy and lung illnesses.
Language of Flowers
Milkweed means “hope in misery”.
***Descriptions of pictures can be found by holding your cursor over any photo
Its flowers’ distilled honey is so sweet
It makes the butterflies intemperate.
Check out other posts in the series, Simply the Best:
Next up on the blog: The first Monday in October will be time to assess my September garden as we move into fall. Then I will have a story about the threat to my precious ash trees.
I will be linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme. It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Wednesday.
As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.
I hope you will join me for my posts once a month on the 3rd Tuesday, at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. The latest post is up now about an unusual pollinator.
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