Butterfly weed – asclepias of different strains, a milkweed – has long been my favorite wild plant. Over nearly 40 years living in North Carolina I never fail to thrill at a glimpse of its bright orange sprays as I drive by road cuts and other dry wastelands.
The color is spectacular, but more important is the plant’s role in attracting pollinators into the landscape.
Ironically, though, butterfly weed’s preference for poor, sun-baked soils makes it difficult to grow in well-tended and well-fertilized, well-watered garden beds. And its long taproot makes it nearly impossible to transplant from the wild. I have done it, but the time from planting to flowering was nearly five years.
Well, guess what! I bought a packet of butterfly weed seeds from Sow True Seed and included them in my new garden in southwest Virginia, just over the North Carolina state line. The seeds sprouted fast and now look healthy and ready to take hold in the next few years. Yup, I sowed them on the south side of the house under the eaves, where they will get sun but not much rain. Now I understand: this plant does better from seed than from a transplant.
Give them a try yourself and see if butterfly weed isn’t one of your “new classics” for a beautiful and productive vegetable garden. When fully mature the plant stands just under two feet tall, rather stiff and with leaves like rosemary and flowers like something from another world.