Sunday, February 7, 2010

Butterfly Milkweed - Asclepias tuberosa

Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is the most widely recognized native milkweed for the home landscape. It occurs across much of North America in a wide variety of habitats, but in Florida it is confined to areas of well-drained sandy soils and it will quickly perish if not provided these types of soils. Do not attempt to grow this plant from seed or stock which originates from sources outside of Florida. It may grow for a season, but rarely persists. Florida butterfly milkweed is often a rather gangly plant. It rarely becomes the fuller more floriferous specimens seen in other states. Often a single-stemmed individual with multiple branches, it emerges in early spring and eventually reaches a mature height of 12-24 inches. The leaves are oval and a rather dull green in color. What makes it so spectacular are its blooms. Butterfly milkweed may bloom at any time from late spring to late fall and individual plants will produce flowers successively throughout this time period. Large rounded umbels of bright orange to brick red or nearly yellow flowers provide a color accent few others can produce. Plant it in small clusters for the most impact and near the middle portion of a mixed wildflower planting. Butterfly milkweed is extremely touchy in regards to growing conditions. If you can provide the very well-drained sands it needs, use it in numbers.  Many commercial nurseries in Florida list it in their catalogs, but it is in such demand that few actually have it available at any one time.  Be prepared to look around a bit before actually obtaining your plants, but the wait will be well worth it.  Once you have some, sow your seeds in good potting soil just below the soil surface and make more.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks, I'll look for Florida seed. I've had trouble with it coming back.

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  2. I have never had my plants live for more than a season when I have used seed from plants from other areas. In Florida, you have to use Florida stock.

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  3. Hello - I understand that this milkweed is tricky and i know many people in Florida use non-native wooly dutchman's pipe as a butterfly plant. I have seen your many helpful posts about other asclepias plants, as well as comments in the posts of varied plants (Florida paintbrush, false indigo, etc.)- but i wondered about native aristolochias. I am in Sarasota and a nursery here has more aristolochias than I can recall, but none are native. If you have any experience with “pentandra” I would love to hear about it. I also read that these are in the aristolocha group (although the name does not suggest it): Hexastylis virginica and Hexastylis arifolia var. arifolia & var. callifolia.
    Thanks for the blog; it is great.

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    1. Jane et al. - First, wild gingers (Hexastylis spp.) are not larval plants for butterflies. I have H. arifolia in my landscape here and love it, but there are no records of it being used and my polydamas have never laid eggs on it.
      As for the native pipevines... I have A. serpentaria in my landscape now and have tried A. tomentosa a number of times. They are the only 2 species I have ever found to be propagated. A. tomentosa is, by nature, a wetland plant in FL and difficult to grow here - south of north Florida. I can not get it to persist in my average soil. A. serpentaria is so small as to not feed caterpillars to chrysalis stage. You would need a lot of it for it to work. I have seen butterflies lay eggs on both these natives. The A. pentandra would be a good species to experiment with, but it is listed, quite rare, and I know of no one who is propagating it. Maybe some day. I am sure butterflies use it.

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  4. Two days after i posted this question, I got to the section of your book with hexastylis, etc. It just never occurred to me that these plants would be conveniently presented in a landscape book because i'd had to travel so far down the rabbit hole before i found them online. I am so glad you wrote the books; they made my plant lafe SO much easier and better!

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  5. I have good luck with this milkweed in my meadow. It comes back year after year from self sown seed. I have it in full sun, well drained soil. Started mine by directly sowing seed from Florida Wildflower CoOp. in the meadow in late fall one year a few years back. Zone 9b.

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