I grow food and, as such, I rely heavily on pollinating insects. We use “bee safe” insect control, but we also try to install plants that will attract pollinating insects. We also simply enjoy watching them at their work. We call the blooming oregano “Bee TV” because the little buzzing insects are so active around the flowers. Some of the true beauties in the garden are the butterflies. So I planted Asclepias, or butterfly weed.
Our most commonly known pollinators are the many varieties of bees, but they aren’t the only ones doing the heavy lifting. Moths and even butterflies have a hand in helping the pollination process. The gorgeous butterflies aren’t quite as adept at moving pollen from one plant to another, but they do so in a small manner as they disrupt flowers while collecting nectar. Since they are a joy to behold, I like to attract them where possible. We have tons of flowering perennials upon which to sup, but Asclepias will really bring them around.
Different Butterfly Plants
Any pollinator garden should have a wide variety of attractive plants to feed both adult and larval beneficial insects. Butterfly weed is not to be confused with butterfly bush, or Buddleja. Butterfly bush is a towering plant, while butterfly weed is only 1-3 feet (0.3-0.91m.) tall. Asclepia has a bushy habit but is much smaller and has very different blooms. They are electric orange. Just striking. It is also quite drought tolerant once established, and will come back year after year.
I have both butterfly weed and butterfly bush in my pollinator garden. But Buddleja is considered invasive in some regions, while butterfly weed is native to North America. Asclepias is a butterfly host plant, meaning it is part of the reproductive life cycle of the insects. It grows from tubers and blooms from spring into fall. The flowers develop into pointed, long pods, which add additional interest to the plant. The fiery flowers are a bright note in the landscape, which I love. It is often called a milkweed, but does not produce milky sap and is in a separate genus.
Care of Butterfly Weed
Butterfly weed is super easy to grow. All it needs is well draining soil, which can even be fairly poor in quality. I put my tubers in 2 springs ago and it flowered the first year and has come back ever since. It is super cold hardy and I do not have to lift the tubers for winter. Asclepias is suited for gardens in USDA zones 3-9. I really do nothing except water it occasionally. It will die back in the cold weather, but sprouts right up when temperatures begin to heat.
Apparently the plant will self seed and develop into a large colony, which is what I want. But so far, all I have noticed are the individual plants I put in from the tubers. The plants themselves are getting slightly larger year after year. They really are so bright and sunny, I would have planted them just for the gorgeous flowers.