Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a perennial that produces large, showy clusters of bright orange to reddish flowers from spring through fall. It occurs naturally in sandhills, pine flatwoods, and other sandy uplands as well as along sunny roadsides. It is an exception to the Asclepias genus in that its stem does not contain the milky latex that distinguishes the rest of the genus and gives it the common name “milkweed.”
Imagine yourself as a native Indian or early explorer 500 hundred years ago trying to survive in Florida. The better part of your day was probably spent hunting or gathering for daily sustenance, making tools and building shelters. Although artifacts are recovered by archeologists, the list of plants used for food, medicine and spiritual purposes was generally passed down by word of mouth through generations of early Floridians. There is quite a compendium of knowledge about early uses of native trees and shrubs, but what about wildflowers?
Don’t let the title scare you off! I’ve been wondering why plants of the same species sometimes occur in different colors, so I did a little research. As you can see from my photos, some common flowers that have appeared in my garden are red and yellow forms of milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) and blanketflower (Gaillardia puchella). I also have red, pink and white tropical sage (Salvia coccinea), which I’m sure many of you have also grown. Do you ever have white flower forms of your typically blue spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) or Stokes’ aster (Stokesia laevis)? Wonder what’s going on?
If you have added wildflowers to your landscape, you’ve probably learned how adaptable they are to a wide range of environmental conditions. Although it is a challenge to introduce wildflowers to a dry site, many species will adapt and flourish once established.
Tropical milkweed can enable monarchs to continue breeding well into fall and winter, causing populations to persist longer in certain areas than they naturally would. Unfortunately, this can foster higher than normal infection rates by a lethal protozoan parasite, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE). We have suggestions for native milkweeds you can plant to support monarchs.
Although summer’s heat keeps many of us inside, it’s a busy time for wildflowers. Thousands of butterflies, bees, wasps and other insects visit flowers to obtain nectar. It’s also the changing of the guard, when lovely delicate spring bloomers such as coral bean, Coreopsis and skullcap are replaced by sturdier heat-loving species.