I Am a Key Link in the Food Chain

Perennial Of The Week: Asclepias

Asclepias, known to most of us as Milkweed, is a vital part of the ecosystem. Without the various types of Asclepias, much of the food we eat every day could not be produced! This is no exaggeration: Asclepias is essential to the survival of the Monarch Butterfly and other important pollinators.

Monarch caterpillars depend on Asclepias leaves to fuel their journey toward becoming fully developed, migratory butterflies. The butterflies then continue the cycle, laying their eggs on Asclepias plants.

From early to mid-summer, Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) produces clusters of sweetly perfumed pink flowers. Each rounded umbel includes multiple five-part flowers with elevated central crowns. The plants grow up to five feet tall in full sun or partial shade, and tolerate average to wet soil conditions. A. incarnata is often found growing near ponds and in other low-lying areas. Its specialized roots are adapted to thrive in low-oxygen conditions.

The “Ice Ballet” form of A. incarnata produces pure white flowers.

Whorled Milkweed (A. verticillata) features fine foliage and nodding blooms. These plants are best enjoyed in mass plantings.

Rohsler’s is also your source for the hard-to-find A. purpurascens, Purple Milkweed. This species is more rare then the other Asclepias species and has lovely deep purple flowers.

Common Milkweed (A. syriaca) blooms from May through July. This variety of Asclepias has a tendency to spread and is best planted in its own garden bed.

Butterfly Weed (A. tuberosa) was named the 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association. It prefers drier sites and does not care for very wet soil. Gardeners enjoy planting “Gay Butterflies,” which develops showy orange and yellow blossoms, and “Hello Yellow,” which has a self-descriptive name. A. tuberosa also makes an excellent long lasting cut flower.

When Milkweed has finished flowering, it forms long seed pods that ultimately open to the reveal fluffy white spidery seed carriers that each transport one seed on the slightest wind. In years gone by, children called these “money catchers,” and would take hold of one, make a wish, and send the seed carrier off on the breeze.

Asclepias is also highly deer resistant which makes it another desirable plant for our area.

Rohsler’s grows all of the aforementioned varieties of Asclepias from seed, and is proud to present organic, chemical-free Milkweed to the public and the pollinators that help produce our food. Come see what all the “Buzz” is all about when it comes to bees, butterflies and other pollinators with Asclepias.

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