(Asclepias spp) Milkweed is an herbaceous perennial that has been used for a multitude of purposes throughout human history. Indigenous populations in North America have used the plant medicinally, while parts of various species have been employed for insulation, cordage and thread as well as hypoallergenic filling for pillows. Milkweed fibers have even been used to clean up oil spills! Ornamental and attractive, the petite, star-shaped flowers of milkweed are perfectly designed for pollination. Perhaps our favorite role that milkweed plays is as the sole food source for the monarch caterpillar! Milkweed is also quite easy to grow. It can be started indoors 6 to 8 weeks ahead of last frost, or direct sown outdoors. If starting indoors, take care to avoid becoming root bound as the sensitive tap root hates being constrained and the plants will suffer. Sow seeds 1/4 inch deep. Seeds will germinate in 14-21 days. Ideal germination temperature is 65-70F. Alternatively, you can direct sow into the garden in the late fall or early spring. Plants prefer full sun and will flourish in poor soil and dry conditions. Space plants 18-24 inches apart. ATTENTION: The milky sap is poisonous if ingested in large quantities; contact with the skin may cause dermatitis in sensitive individuals.
(Asclepias speciosa) A gorgeous pollinator attractor plant that is host to the monarch butterfly and others. A native milkweed of the Western half of the U.S., this herbaceous perennial will bloom from May to September. The ornamental blooms are like fireworks bursting in lavender to rose colors. This beneficial insect magnet provides food and habitat to the monarch butterfly, and is a larval host to dogbane tiger moth and queen butterfly; the apple clearwing moth is attracted to this plant as well. Plants reach can grow up to 5 feet tall, and spread through rhizomes, coming back each year. It is a native wildflower for any central west and western gardener looking to put out a buffet for loads of beneficial insects.