Flowing with Milkweed and Honey

The milkweeds in my garden are blooming their hearts out right now. Some of these are fragrant, and they give the air around them a honey/vanilla scent. I love these plants for the colors, the scent, the unusual shape of the flowers, and the (mostly) easy cultivation.

Swamp milkweed, species (pink) and ‘Ice Ballet’ (white).

Right now I have three kinds of milkweed in bloom:

  • Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). This is a fairly tall (about 4′ in my garden) perennial with pink/red flowers. Likes moisture, but will do ok in medium soil. Forms clumps and will self-sow moderately. Fragrant.

  • Swamp Milkweed ‘Ice Ballet’ (A. incarnata ‘Ice Ballet’). Like the species, but shorter (about 3′) and with white flowers. Makes a nice combination with the species.
  • Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa). About 2′ tall with bright orange flowers. Likes well-drained soil. I’ve had some trouble getting this plant established, but once it settles in it forms big clumps and the seedlings start popping up here and there.

Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens) grows in my backyard, but it finished blooming  in late June. The flowers are purple with no fragrance. Unlike most milkweeds, Purple Milkweed will tolerate part shade and is very demure in its behavior.

Purple Milkweed

I’d like to grow the Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), which has beautiful pink flowers and a wonderfully strong fragrance. In fact, I’ve noticed it growing in the Lurie Garden in downtown Chicago. However, I’m just scared off by its generally rampant behavior. Too bad.

Milkweeds are the only food of Monarch caterpillars, which reminds me. Are others noticing a decline in the number of Monarch butterflies and butterflies generally this summer? It’s definitely the case in my garden, and I wonder if it might be an effect of the drought.

14 Comments on “Flowing with Milkweed and Honey

  1. I have common milkweed and you are right – it is rampant. I almost bought a swamp milkweed this spring, but I did not know anything about it – thanks for the quick education! And thanks for the comment about butterfly weed needing some time to get established – I did plant some of that this year and it is doing okay – I’ll be patient. And yes, I have hardly seen any butterflies this summer other than a few early on, not even the white cabbage butterflies. On the plus side, I’ve hardly seen any Japanese beetles, either.

  2. I think I’ve seen more Japanese beetles than butterflies the last couple of weeks. And with all the milkweeds, remember that they come up very late in the spring, so it’s a good idea to mark their location.

  3. Wanted to say hello!
    Yes, JB are more common this year than the last couple but not as many as 3-4 years ago, here in Iowa. I see lots of trees with brown lace leaves, though, so is bad.
    I think the butterflies are suffering from the drought as many are. I was seeing lots of skippers, question marks, red admirals, sulfurs in our north gardens. As for milkweeds, I have baby asclepias tuberosa to plant along with other wildflowers. But I am glad I hesitated – pretty sure they would have succumbed to the dry conditions. When we get up there in the next year, there WILL be a rain garden, including the tuberosa, incarnata (along with meadowsweet and monardas and whatever else takes my fancy….
    Wish I had more time to chat, your updates are of great interest!

    • Thanks so much for the comment. Sad about the butterflies, let’s hope for more normal weather next year that will make the butterflied more numerous. I’ve never grown meadowsweet, have you already tried it?

      • Yes, I have some meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria, not spiraea) at the edge of my main garden in town, but it suffers in years like this because it likes damp. Also the JBs love it – which makes it easy to pick them off into a cup of water (add a few drops of Murphy’s Wood Oil Soap.) They also love the rose. Meadowsweet can reseed like crazy so I dead head it, but it smells so nice. It was used as a “strewing herb” on the floor to help the home smell nice, and is a salicylic acid source along with other things. (Wiki sez it was also used for mead….hmmm, need to find out more about that!) It’s popular with the pollinators, and not aggressive if you deadhead it.

  4. Common milkweed has entered a garden in the parking median south of my house. Must admit, thug or not, I love it.

    Thanks for a lovely post.

    • I think if that happened somewhere in my backyard not adjoining the neighbors, I’d leave them there and see if I could control them. For me, it’s that powerful honey fragrance I can’t resist.

  5. I adore the common ones the most as well (those ones with the silvery-pink blooms), but am also slightly leery of them in a garden setting. I just saw some of the purple ones for the first time ever this weekend at a local nursery…and if I had a place to put them (that wouldn’t first involve removing some other plant), I would have bought them on the spot!

  6. Hi! Milkweeds have been in my wish list for a long time now but I never get the courage to plant one of them in my garden. First of all they are very expensive here in Italy, probably because they are hard to establish, and I fear I’m going to loose the plants. What do you suggest me to start with? Maybe a. tuberosa is more suitable for my garden, since I don’t have any moisture area in the garden yet…
    Your specimens are amazing by the way!

    • I would definitely go with a. tuberosa – prefers dry soil and can take a warm climate. Be patient, it is slow to establish. Plant one, however, and if it succeeds you will have lots of seedlings.

  7. I also grow several different milkweeds including common milkweed. It has not been too invasive for me (thank heavens). One milkweed I started growing last year is Asclepias verticillata. It only gets about 12 inches tall and pretty delicate white flowers. The only problem is that the monarchs seem to prefer A. incarnata and tuberosa to lay their eggs. The caterpillars did enjoy the verticillata when the other was gone, though.

    • I’ve seen A. verticillata in catalogues and pictures but have never planted it. I may try it one of these days. I’ve got to say one disappointment with my milkweeds has been that I’ve seen very few monarch caterpillars over the years, although monarchs have been fairly common in the garden.

      • Mine will be heavy one year and light the next. My biggest influx is usually in late Aug. and Sept. when they are migrating back to Mexico. You can also follow journeynorth–they track migration patterns of the monarchs.

  8. Well, I’m considerably further north than you are, but even here it seems like August and September are the best months. I agree though that the population fluctuates year to year. I have to think the drought here is reducing all insect populations.

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