Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Plant of the Week: Showy Milkweed

With the rain sidelining my outdoor activities, the world wide web has been my garden outlet and I'm obsessing over Asclepias speciosa, or Showy Milkweed right now.   Full disclosure is that I've tried this plant twice and both times it died in defiance of my wish for clouds of happy butterflies.  I haven't lost faith- I'm planning on buying a few for the front garden and I'll report back on what happens. 
Asclepias is a tuber that shrinks back after it blooms, but can leave fiberglass-like stalks that the birds like to use for nest-making (or at least that's what Las Pilitas says).  When it blooms, a bevy of insects stampede the garden to enjoy its nectar.  Monarch butterfly larvae gobble up the foliage, as the poisonous leaves that they ingest help protect them from predators.  It's not unusual to find their turquoise and gold-dotted chrysalis' hanging from a stem. 

Soil:  Well-drained, but the key is no summer water.  This plant can't be mixed with water loving exotics.
Sun:  Full sun, although the photo above was taken at the base of a north-facing hill in the Trinity Alps.
Plant:  When it's dormant, perhaps when the first rains start.
Buy it:  Native Here Nursery carries a relative- Asclepias fascicularis, Annie's carries speciosa.  The link above to Las Pilitas shows that they carry them at the nursery, but not for the online store.  Hmmm.
Good for:  a must for the habitat garden, deer resistant gardens, dry cottage gardens (so romantic paired with Lupines and white CA poppies!), gardeners that don't like to water


  1. I can see why you'd try planting this again, it's beautiful. I hope your new plants are successful! Deer resistant, and no extra water? I'm tempted too!

    I see that Tree of Life Nursery has Asclepias speciosa too, although it would require a trip in person as it doesn't seem they do online sales :( I'm visiting a friend in San Diego soon a good excuse for a slight detour!

  2. Tree of Life? Yet another nursery to put on my road-trip down south for someday? As if I needed another one! Thanks, Clare!

  3. Hello Christine,

    What a pretty plant. We grow Asclepias linearis, which is an unremarkable plant, but the butterflies just love it.

  4. Hi Noelle,
    Yes, I read that it's important to plant the Asclepias native to your general area, as foreign Asclepias can give butterflies the equivalent of indigestion! Poor things.
    I like how you plant the A. linearis not to show off its flowers, but its butterflies!