Moisture-loving Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is slowly establishing itself in expanding colonies in the garden and bog. The individual flowers, shaped like an hourglass, are a purple-pink color and form umbrel-like clusters at the top of the stalk. The plants can grow to about 4 feet tall and are an important nectar source for many pollinators, like native bees and wasps, flies, and butterflies.
The butterly most often associated with Milkweeds is the Monarch, which lays its eggs on this species alone. I've read that Swamp Milkweed is not often used in this way by Monarchs; they are said to prefer Butterfly Weed (pictured at left) or Common Milkweed (pictured below). I always inspect the underside of the lower leaves for eggs, and one summer had three or four catepillars happily munching away.
The most fragrant of the milkweeds is likely Common Milkweed, which is less showy, but abundant and often grows in waste places and along roadsides as a *weed*. Including milkweeds in the butterfly garden is an easy way to help Monarch butterflies and other pollinators. My bee-keeping friend says that the pollen is especially loved by honeybees, but many die trapped in the blossoms. I didn't find any insects visiting the flowers late this afternoon, but did find quite a few milkweed bugs on the foliage, as well as some aphids and ants. Milkweed bugs feed on the leaves and seeds and taste as bad as monarchs to predators that try to eat them.
festival of Lights
2 weeks ago