About Good Scents

The cut flower business ended in 2011 but I continue to post other items about gardening.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Asclepias (milkweed, butterfly weed)

Asclepias is the genus of the butterfly weeds or milkweeds. I grow three different species of them for cut flowers, two perennial and one annual. All bear their flowers in clusters. Close up the individual flowers look very similar but they are all useful because they are different colors and bloom at different times.

The first perennial milkweed is Asclepias incarnata or swamp milkweed, which bears rounded clusters of white or pink flowers in mid to late June. The flowers have a sweet, vanilla or candy-like fragrance. It is fairly mild, it won't knock your socks off, but it is still pleasant. I know nothing about butterflies but they do seem particularly attracted to flowers with this type of scent. Asclepias incarnata is native to this part of North America but I have never seen it growing wild.

The second perennial variety, Asclepias tuberosa, is another wildflower native to this part of the country. It has brilliant orange flowers and you occasionally see it growing along roadsides. The flowers are borne on pointy clusters and appear in July. If you like the combination of orange and purple/blue flowers (one of my favorites), then you could try pairing this asclepias with blue balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus). I have not written about balloon flowers yet but they bloom at the same time as the asclepias, and both are long lived and do not require division.

The annual milkweed I grow is Asclepias curassavica. The flowers are bicolor yellow and red with bronze stems and leaves. The flowers are borne in loose clusters and if cut for the house or deadheaded will re-bloom until they are killed by frost. Of all these milkweeds, this is the one people most often ask me about. These will frequently self-sow a bit in the garden but have never been a pest.

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