Common Milkweed

For those of you who are thinking about the Monarch butterflies and want to plant milkweed (something in the Asclepias genus) and are thinking big, think Asclepias syriaca, or common milkweed. A volunteer showed up in my garden two years ago.

Since this plant spreads not only by seed but also from its roots, it's reported to form large colonies. Being a gardener who likes not only big plants but plants that spread, I left it alone to see what would happen. What happened was that I had a clump of about 10 stalks last year -- not really the thug I had read about.


As a reminder, this is what the plant looked like last year, mid-June:

Beautiful, right?

Well, this year I'm seeing the results of this tendency to spread (third year leap, right?), with the thick, rubbery shoots coming up everywhere in a 6-8' (1.8-2.4m) radius around the original plant!

Do you see them in the background of this photo?

They're coming up all over the place, and since they grow 5-6' (1.5-1.8m) tall they're not the type of plant that I want sprinkled throughout this bed, especially not the front of the bed!

If left to grow, they'll shade out everything here...

Some even made it across the path into the other half of the prairie beds:

I'll leave those, but will dig up the rest of them -- or just remove the shoots.

I transplanted three divisions of this last fall, and they appear to all be alive:

I didn't get all of the roots though, as there are more shoots coming up in the original area.

Incidentally, these look quite similar to the dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) shoots that are coming up everywhere (due to reseeding -- I'm so lazy with removing seed pods!):

Dogbane has more slender stalks and the leaves aren't as big. I pull so many dogbane shoots each year but it's such a great pollinator attractor...

Back to the milkweed though. It turns out that these are sometimes difficult to dig...

...with the roots being a bit deeper than you'd think and you only end up severing the stalks:

I did manage to get some bare roots...

...and a couple of intact divisions:

The large one got transplanted back into the garden next to one of last fall's divisions, but the other was potted up... were the bare roots. Those are an experiment to see what happens.

So if you've got a lot of space to fill (or a large container) and want to plant something that the Monarchs just can't miss, try Asclepias syriaca!

Incidentally, I saved one of the seed pods (removed the others before they had a chance to ripen):

If you're in the US and want a few of these seeds (and don't have a field or natural area near you where these are growing) send me an email (check the "about me" page) and let me know. Remember, this is a big, spreading plant!


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Mark and Gaz  – (May 4, 2015 at 1:40 PM)  

It looks very ornamental with those rather large leaves, nice!

Charlie@Seattle Trekker  – (May 5, 2015 at 10:52 AM)  

I replanted my garden about four years ago to be more friendly to butterfly's and started to see results this past year...It was so worth the effort.

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