Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Summer Fare- The Asclepias
I love the Milkweeds. I do wish they didn't have "weed" in their common name, but that's what we have. I've thought of just calling them "floss flowers"or"butterfly flower"-but you always end up saying Milkweed to clarify that you're not referring to a butterfly bush. Few plants can boast such glowing attributes; not only are they stunning in a natural setting, they also work wonders in more orderly schemes. Most importantly,they are larval food for the imperial Monarch as well as Queen butterflies. It takes several years to get young plants established and thriving. They aren't difficult at all, they just require more time to reach their stride.
Some of these stunning plants are from the vast grasslands and savannas across the nation, others are from the lowlands and waterways, they find wonderful use in the garden and even more so in the cultivated meadow and rain garden areas. I'm enamored with the hardy perennial types, but there are several annual Asclepias that are great summer garden plants.
I have great childhood memories of the Milkweed pods,spilling forth with their silken down. What a great and beautiful way for a seed to disperse! The down was used briefly in world war two as insulating fill, I believe the latex sap has been investigated as well...I just know the value of these plants hasn't been utilized in the least. We would make small Lilliputian boats out of the pods to float down the creek, the flashing gold interior,glinting as the boats passed us by.
I love the color pallet: spilled milk white, crushed strawberry reds and minty cool greens. Did I say orange and yellow??! The foliage is bold and dramatic, and certainly enough for some hungry caterpillars to eat!
The most obvious reason to plant and promote these special plants is to attract and feed butterflies-all butterflies are drawn to these nectar rich blossoms. Some species are very fragrant, and make excellent cut flowers.
I met a bee keeper who kept a hive with a field of Asclepias syriaca, a sweetly scented species. He kept the honey collected from this hive for himself and his family; the honey had retained the special flavor and scent of the species. Varietal honey is the way to go! I'll keep writing about these great plants, more species will open as the summer progresses.