Milkweed - Asclepias Syriaca OG (Butterfly Weed)

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From the Xerces society (

Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) of North America are renowned for their long-distance seasonal migration and spectacular winter gatherings in Mexico and California. The monarch butterfly population has recently declined to dangerously low levels. In the 1990s, estimates of up to one billion monarchs made the epic flight each fall from the northern plains of the U.S. and Canada to sites in the oyamel fir forests north of Mexico City, and more than one million monarchs overwintered in forested groves on the California Coast. Now, researchers and citizen scientists estimate that only about 56.5 million monarchs remain, representing a decline of more than 80% from the 21 year average across North America.

The primary threats to the monarch butterfly include the loss of milkweed—the key plant that monarch caterpillars need to survive—from agricultural and natural areas, degradation of overwintering sites, and climate change. The large-scale use of systemic insecticides such as neonicotinoids within the breeding range of the monarch may pose a considerable threat. Natural enemies such as diseases, predators, and parasites likely also influence the size of the monarch population. Loss of milkweed from the American Midwest is primarily due to the dramatic increase in the use of the herbicide Roundup™ (glyphosate), made possible by the mass-planting of Genetically Modified Herbicide Tolerant corn and soy. Illegal logging has threatened overwintering sites in Mexico, and in California, numerous sites have been logged and replaced with housing developments. Extreme weather events may be negatively impacting monarchs in the eastern U.S. and low monarch populations in California are correlated with years of intense drought. Climate change models predict that future climate scenarios will not be suitable to support overwintering monarchs or the oyamel fir trees that they use in Mexico.


Milkweed attracts flocks of butterflies and their larvae; butterflies are immune to the plant’s poison, and actually become rather poisonous themselves as protection from predators.

Germination: In late fall, direct sow in the garden just below the surface in full sun and well drained soil. This plant also tolerates dry, rocky soil or clay, so don't get out spending money on expensive potting soil or ammendments for your milkweed plantings. Plant three seeds together every 18-24 inches. Germination will take place in the spring, after the last frost. When the seedlings appear, thin to the strongest plant; seedlings usually do not survive transplanting, since they resent any disturbance of their roots. For spring planting, mix the seeds with moist sand and refrigerate for 30 days before direct sowing. Seeds can be notoriously difficult to germinate unless they experience a proper winter, so be persistent and allow plenty of time for stratification when planting in Spring.

Growing Common Milkweed Seeds: Though this plant can tolerate some dryness, occasional watering may be necessary. The flowers attract bees and butterflies, especially monarch butterflies. Deer avoid this plant. This plant will reseed itself and often spreads extensively in the wild.

Harvesting Common Milkweed: This makes a striking cut flower. Cut the stems long, choosing flowers that have just opened. Keep in mind that the milky sap is mildly toxic and can irritate the skin.

Saving Common Milkweed Seeds: After the plant finishes flowering, 3-4” narrow pods will form. Be sure to harvest the pods before they split and the silky fluff carries the seeds away on the wind. As soon as the seeds inside the pod ripen to their mature brown color, remove the pods and spread them out to dry. Split open the pods and take out the silky seed material. Remove the fluff from the seeds. Store the seeds in a cool, dry place.

Detailed Common Milkweed Info: Origin: US Native Other Common Names: Butterfly Flower, Silkweed, Silky Swallowwort, Virginia Silkweed Duration: Perennial Bloom Time: Summer Height: 36-48 inches Spacing: 18-24 inches Light: Full Sun to Part Shade Soil Moisture: Medium to Dry USDA Zone: 3a-9b Seeds Per Oz: 4,000 Produces a plant with thick, 6” elongated oval leaves and round clusters of pale pink flowers.

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