[Guest Post by Barbara Pintozzi]
The milkweeds are some of the finest of our native plants. Unfortunately for me, I don’t do orange, so Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed) is out. I tried the lovely pink, vanilla-scented swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) in the Nanoprairie, but it was too much of a thug for such a small space. I gave it to a neighbor. I thought I had to give up on milkweeds, until I saw a picture of Asclepias purpurascens, the purple milkweed. Now that’s the thing, I thought. But then I searched and searched local garden centers unsuccessfully.
Fate had intervened. Had I bought A. purpurascens, I would not have been able to grow it for the Native Seed Gardeners program here in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago. Native Seed Gardeners collects seeds of the local genotype, sows them, and grows them on into small plants, which are then provided free of charge to local gardeners to grow in their gardens. In return, the gardeners must collect the seeds from their plants and give them to Native Seed Gardeners to propagate into more plants which can then be used for prairie restorations. To avoid cross-contamination, they don’t allow gardeners to take plants if they are already growing a plant of the same species.
A. purpurascens has exceeded my expectations. Not only is it beautiful in flower, I find the buds beautiful in their own right.
They start off this soft dusty pink, then mature into a stunning ruby.
Just when you think it can’t get any better, the blooms open, and an enticing scent reminiscent of cinnamon perfumes the air.
I love everything about this plant, even the foliage, from which it gets its name.
According to Illinois Wildflowers, various butterflies visit Asclepias purpurascens. While purple milkweed doesn’t seem to be favored by butterflies in my garden, it is popular with other pollinators.
Monarch butterfly caterpillars feed on its foliage, but I haven’t noticed any on mine yet.
Asclepias purpurascens makes an excellent garden plant, as it is not aggressive like swamp milkweed. It prefers partial sun, but it will grow in full sun or light shade. It will grow in average garden soil and actually does best in clayish soil. It is distributed from Ontario south to Texas and Georgia, but is endangered in Wisconsin and Massachusetts (USDA). It blooms in mid-to-late June in my Zone 5, Chicago-area garden. It reaches 2 to 3 feet in height.
Why purple milkweed is so hard to find and isn’t better known is beyond me. This plant should be made more wildly available to gardeners east of the Rockies as a tough, beautiful, reliable workhorse.
[Barbara Pintozzi gardens for wildlife in her suburban Chicago home. You can read all about it at Mr. McGregor's Daughter. Barbara is also on the team at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. Follow @suburbangarden on Twitter.]
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