Mostly native to the U.S. and Canada, Asclepias include over 100 species of evergreen or deciduous perennials adorned with clusters of small, interestingly shaped blooms that are irresistible to butterflies. Attractive and easy to grow, they shine in many perennial gardens and are a key component of butterfly gardens, cottage gardens, or prairies and meadows.
Often fragrant, the attractive flowers are a great source of nectar for butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and other beneficial insects. The blossoms give way to long, narrow seed pods in the fall. When the seed pods open, they reveal seeds with long, silvery-white, silky hairs that travel on the wind.
- Milkweed plants are critical to the monarch butterflies survival. Without Milkweed, monarchs cannot successfully reproduce and the species declines. In the last 20 years, the monarch butterfly population in North America has decreased by 90%. By planting milkweed in your own garden, you can help reverse the fortune of these beautiful insects!
- Most Asclepias require full sun (at least 6 hours a day) and perform well in average garden soil. Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) is an exception as it prefers medium to wet soils.
- Since Milkweeds have a tendancy to self-seed (if the seed pods are not removed prior to splitting open), plant them in a sheltered location to prevent the wind to spread the seeds.
- Low maintenance, most Asclepias are pest and disease free and deer resistant.
- Milkweeds get their name from the milky sap that exudes from the leaves and stems when they are cut or bruised. All Milkweeds except Asclepias tuberosa produce this milky sap.
- Milkweeds contain cardiac glycosides, naturally occurring drugs that increase the force of heart contraction and have been used to treat heart conditions. The cardiac glycosides are potentially poisonous to humans. All parts, particularly the roots, may cause mild stomach upset if ingested. But they pose the most danger to grazing animals. However, it should be noted that not all milkweed species are equally toxic. Among the most toxic are Asclepias labriformis (Labriform Milkweed), Asclepias subverticillata (Western Whorled Milkweed), Asclepias eriocarpa (Woolypod Milkweed) and Asclepias fascicularis (Mexican Whorled Milkweed).