Finally I found one growing wild near my office on a path that went through a natural area. I could then see the flower up close and understand how it was put together. I examined it more and found that if I pulled a leaf off that it would ooze white sap. As beautiful as the flower was, I found the stem and leaves to be rather coarse up close. This didn’t seem to be a flower that one would want in a garden. Later I tried to dig one up and found that it had a big, knotty taproot; my efforts were not successful (and, luckily, I’m sure that the root that stayed behind in the ground got a chance to grow again!).
Here you can see the individual flower buds.
|Milkweed tussock moth caterpillar|
I am not sure how I finally figured out the plant’s name. After I did, I researched it more and found that it is a host plant for the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). In growing it in my garden, I was surprised to find a couple of other bugs that depend on it: Milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) and Milkweed tussock moth caterpillar (Euchaetes egle). There may even be others, but these three are ones that I have seen and identified on my milkweed plants.
This plant is a little hard to find in nurseries. I have found others – the tropical milkweed, which is native to Mexico, used to be available as an annual at Pike’s (Asclepias curassavica); this one is very colorful and very popular with butterflies when it comes to laying their eggs! Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is also found more regularly in nurseries. The purchased swamp milkweeds have not done well for me – perhaps I sited them incorrectly. My sister gave me a start a couple of years ago and that one is still alive but not exactly thriving. I hope one year to see the pretty pink blooms.
I think that ornamental and beneficial milkweeds are getting more attention lately however. There is a recent cultivar available now: Asclepias tuberosa ‘Hello Yellow’. I hope the success of that plant will help to encourage growers to propagate it which in turn will allow more gardeners to use it. Milkweed is a good example to use when explaining the concept of “host plants” to educate people about planting more than just nectar plants for butterflies.
Plus it’s pretty and very drought tolerant once established – just look to the roadsides to see what I mean!