Video Plant Profile: Common Milkweed

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is an important plant for pollinators in our Mid-Atlantic region. The “weed” in its name can scare some people off, but it is important for local gardeners to add it to our landscapes.

   Recent studies show that the wide-spread use of pesticides and herbicides has impacted the Asclepias and Monarch populations.

   It is a perennial native to most of the eastern Unites States. The flower is also a popular nectar source for both honey bees and native bees as well as hummingbird moth and many other kinds of butterflies.

  Asclepias syriaca bloom from June and continue through August. In the fall, their seed pods ripen and dry out, splitting to reveal each seed attached to a long, silky fluff that floats away in the breeze.

Milkweed needs sun and adequate moisture to get established. Once in place, it is quite hardy and drought-tolerant. Its rhizome goes straight down, forming a tap root stabilizing the single-stalked plant above ground, and providing the plant with resources hidden deep, when needed.

   It can be hard to start from seed and it is difficult to transplant due to the taproot, but give it a few tries and you’ll eventually have success.

   It tends to run a bit and pops up here and there, growing to about five feet tall. So, plant it in a mixed bed with other sun-loving, native perennials such as Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Solidago, Asters, and Coreopsis. This is especially important because pollinators need groups and clumps of flowers to thrive,

   If some of the leaves on your plant start to look ragged and chewed on, great! The plant is doing its job providing food for the next Monarch generation.

   The toxic milky latex Asclepias exudes when a stem is broken makes them inedible for deer and rabbits, while Monarch butterflies can eat the leaves at their caterpillar stage and that makes the insects in turn unpalatable to birds and other predators.

   Common Milkweed: You can grow that!

The video was produced by Washington Gardener Magazine and edited by intern Alexandra Marquez.

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