Milkweed

Milkweed is a group of plants named for their milky sap. They're an important nectar source for bees and other insects, and serve as host plants for certain butterflies. In fact, milkweed is the only plant material monarch caterpillars can eat.

While there are several species of milkweed, there are two that are commonly found for sale as "butterfly garden plants."

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a perennial native with orange or yellow flowers that appear in late summer and early fall. It attracts queen and monarch butterflies for nectar and larval food. You may have to search out other native milkweeds from nurseries that specialize in native plants or butterfly gardens.

Scarlet or tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) has bunches of orange, yellow, and red tubular flowers. It blooms during much of the year and reseeds freely. It also attracts monarch butterflies, but new research has found a possible connection between non-native milkweed and deformed wings on emerging monarchs. These butterflies are infected with a parasite, ophryocystis elktroscirrha (OE). University of Florida entomologist Jaret Daniels believes there is a correlation between OE disease and the non-native milkweed.

Milkweeds get their common name from the milky sap they exude; this sap can irritate skin and is toxic if consumed in large quanties, so keep pets and small children away.

Orange butterfly weed flowers with bee

Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa. Wendy VanDyk Evans, Bugwood.org

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