|Wow, wow, WOW! The pre-sunset “golden hour” lights up butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)|
Stopped in my tracks on the streets of East York. That’s the only way to describe my reaction to this plant just after 7 pm on Wednesday evening, and thank the photo gods for my iPhone. Capturing the last of the sunlight on the flowers of our native butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), this image is untouched; straight out of the camera. Call me a butterfly, but I find it irresistible.
|A good-sized clump, more than 24″/0.7 m. across|
This unabashed orange gal is one of the good milkweeds, not the “noxious” pink, common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)* we’re supposed to remove from our yards.
Butterfly weed is much better behaved. It doesn’t colonize the way common milkweed does. You can see that this specimen has grown into a considerable resort for bees and butterflies. They must just go gaga.
Milkweed’s unusual, star-shaped florets are fascinating. However, till researching this, I never realized just how unique its flower structure was. In a way, insects without sipping tongues need to “put their foot in it” to pollinate the flower. Sometimes, they even get stuck. For an explanation, zip over to this excellent post by Jim Conrad of Backyard Nature.
Butterfly weed likes a well-drained soil in full sun to light shade. You can still sometimes see it growing wild on sunny slopes in undisturbed areas outside the city. It was well suited to the sandy soil of the oak savanna that was the original habitat in the Toronto area. High Park is trying to restore its oak savanna, a type of habitat which has almost completely disappeared in its natural state. I have also seen large stands of butterfly weed in the oak savanna of The Pinery provincial park on Lake Huron.
But, you don’t need a whole savanna to enjoy Asclepias tuberosa in your garden – unless you’re timid about strong colour. Look at the image below. It’s like a big sign that says, “Welcome butterflies!”
*As an aside, the flowers and buds of our plain old common milkweed are edible, according to naturalist Alan Russo. Here is his recipe for steamed milkweed buds.
[UPDATE: Asclepias tuberosa has been named Perennial Plant of the Year for 2017! A well-deserved honour for this hard-working native plant.]