Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Wildflower Wednesday: The Siren Call of a Wildflower

My favorite garden catalogs arrived this month and just like that I am head over heels in want of a plant that could be wrong for this garden!
with pedulous umbels that are similar to allium (source 
Meet Asclepias exaltata! A Monarch butterfly host plant that grows in shade. I'm not kidding, Asclepias exaltata is one of the most shade tolerant of its genus. That's exciting news for those of us that have more shade than sun in our gardens and want to grow host plants for the Monarch butterfly.

But, there's a but, Asclepias exaltata is a moisture loving plant! Where I garden the soils are generally dryer (summer), heavier and more neutral than where poke milkweed is naturally found. Is this enough of an issue to make me turn a deaf ear to the siren call of this beautiful wildflower?

I don't know, so I'm going to research Poke milkweed before I sail away!
R W Smith photographer
 A. exaltata is a tall and elegant looking flowering plant that can be found in woodland areas across the eastern portion of the United States and Canada. It has a sweet fragrance in bloom and the weeping downward pinkish flowers have been described as reminiscent of an exploded firework.  I like the exploded firework image, but, for the more botanically inclined:  "Umbels weep down with each flower on a long pedicel with 10+/- flowers per umbel. Color is white with lavender to green tinges. Stems of the umbels are a purplish color. Horns protrude through the hoods. Corolla reflexes backward. Corolla, hoods, and horns are a light pink color. " (Monarch Watch source)


The unique flowers give way to beautiful elongated seed pods in late summer. Poke milkweed is taller than its relatives and is less likely to take over your entire garden like Asclepias syriaca/common milkweed.  Once established its deep taproot will make it nearly impossible to transplant successfully, so it’s best planted where it will be happy, and left undisturbed.

The photos below are from the Minnesota Wildflower website.

Look at that plant in the shade
The plant gets its common name from it's large leaves which superficially resemble Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana).
Provides a Monarch larval food source in the shade!

All sources mentioned that it grows best in moist soil and several suggest that it's happiest in moist soils along with cooler temperatures. All of the sources say it flowers nicely in dappled sun and some, say it will flower in full shade. One grower suggests keeping it out of the direct sun or the leaves will yellow. Illinois Wildflowers says the plants must be protected from prevailing winds and grown in rich loamy moist soil with good drainage.

All agree that it has a strikingly sweet fragrance when in bloom and the seed pods are cool. Several gardeners said that bunnies ate their plants to the ground.

The particulars

Asclepias exaltata
Common Names: Tall Milkweed, Poke milkweed
Asclepiadaceae (Milkweed Family)
Perennial Native Wildflower
Bloom: Jun, Jul, Aug
Color:  White, Pink
USDA Zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
US Regions: Midwest, Northern, Northeast, Southeast
Distribution: AL, CT, DE, GA, IA, IL, IN, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MS, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, SC, TN, VA, VT, WI, WV  Canada: ON, QC
Light: Partial, Shade
Soil: Sand, rich loam
Moisture: Seems to require moderate moisture.
Size: 3'-5'
Benefits: Pollinators, Butterflies,
Habitat: Woodland plant, grows best in dappled sunlight in the understory in loamy soils with moderate moisture. Taprooted.
Deer Resistant, but not bunny resistant
Germination: Requires stratification cold/wet for 4 weeks. Seeds are not expensive and are available on the internet.
Uses: Attracts Pollinators, Honeybees,  Butterflies and bunnies
Good wildlife value




In conclusion: Butterfly lovers with shady gardens are in luck! Especially, if you have a moist, shady garden in the eastern United States and Canada. If you have a dry shade garden and want to water this plant during dry periods you, too, can grow A exaltata. Forget growing it in the deep south, it's too hot. If you have a sunny, dry garden then stick with A tuberosa, you won't be disappointed or exhausted from dragging a hose around all summer.

 I still hear the siren song, but, right now, I'm leaning toward growing it from seed, in a container, close to the door, where I can smell the sweet fragrance, watch pollinators visiting and water it daily.

xoxogail

PS Before I go, I want to share with you garden guidelines that help me make better plant choices.  You can modify it to fit your garden and goals.

Before I place any in the online cart I like to make sure:

  • It has a good chance to survive the difficult conditions at Clay and Limestone.
  • It's a middle Tennessee or Central Basin native.
  • It's a nectar or pollen source for pollinators.
  • It's a host plant for pollinators.
  • It has berries, seeds and/or nuts for my critter visitors and residents. 
  • It has good wildlife value.
  • It will aid the diversity of my critter friendly garden.
  • It isn't available locally.
  • Exceptions can be applied by a gardener willing to haul water all summer long for moisture loving plants; purchase containers so plants get good drainage; and, what ever else a plant needs whose siren call won the gardener's heart.


Welcome to Wildflower Wednesday and thank you for stopping by to see what plant made a siren call to me this month. Thanks for joining in and if you are new to Wildflower Wednesday, it's about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if your wildflower is in bloom or not and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. Please leave a comment when you add your url to Mr Linky.




Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

31 comments:

  1. Now you are talking. This sounds like one I need. I am very needy this time of year. :)

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    1. I hope you get it and share with us how happy it is in your garden.

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  2. Maybe you could grow it in a pot! I do grow it here where it is indeed a happy plant in moderately moist places.

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    1. I am going to try to get one to grow in a container. I am pretty good about watering them.

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  3. That is a kind of milkweed I don't have. I noticed "NE" was not on the list of states it is native in, so that could be why. I am surprised rabbits eat the leaves, since they are poisonous to some critters, I was thinking.

    I do have a native shrub, button bush, that is one I decided was worth watering when it is dry. So far, I haven't had to water it a lot, but do give it drinks when it is very hot and dry.

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    1. I am going to add this to the garden, but, may only be able to get seed. I will water it. The rabbits eating it surprised me, too.

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  4. I am finding there are so many more types of milkweed than the common one I knew from growing up. That's a good thing, because my husband was aghast when I said one day I was planting milkweed. I told him not to worry--it wasn't the "weedy" one he was thinking of, and it wouldn't spread outside of the garden:) This one looks perfect for you, although I would have problems with a moist shady place, too.

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    1. I planted common milkweed and it already has become a bit thuggish..But, it mowable! I am going to try this one.

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  5. Oh, those seed catalogs!
    Very pretty milkweed!
    The only hint of a wildflower I have seen lately in my garden is the dried seed heads of Goldenrod.
    Have a wonderful day!

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    1. Seed catalogs do tease us with possibilities! Have a wonderful day.

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  6. I too struggle finding plants for my dry shade. Between the vole pressure and lack of water my woodland area struggles to support plant diversity.

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    1. I end up repeating a lot of the same plants because it's hard to find dry shade plants. Happy WW.

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  7. Darn you, Gail! I really love the look of that flower. It sounds like it might like our PNW climate and conditions too. I suppose I grow plenty of other East Coast natives, including butterflyweed, so why not this one too? The only problem might be handling our 2 to 3 months of summer drought, but I could always put it in a pot too.

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    1. I love enabling plantaholics! I am going to have to plant this in a pot, too. xogail

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  8. Thanks so much for the introduction to a new and alluring milkweed! The Digital Atlas of the Flora of Virginia at vaplantatlas.org has county-level distribution maps, a huge help in figuring out how suitable a plant is likely to be here. This one turns out to be locally native; yay! Got just the spot for it...

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    1. You lucky gardener! Let us know how it does. gail

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  9. I hesitated to plant this one (many reasons) for years, opting instead for Butterflyweed and Whorled Milkweed in my limited sun, and Swamp Milkweed in partial/dappled shade (where it performs quite well). In an effort to add Milkweeds here and there throughout the garden, I did plant seeds of Poke MW in a special spot last fall. We'll see what happens! Thanks for hosting WW, Gail!

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    1. I hope you let us know if it germinated and flowered. I sure would love to have it in my garden.

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  10. It sounds like it would do well on my land, but I don't think I've ever seen it before. I just checked the NY Flora Atlas, and it has been seen in my county, so I might consider adding it. I wrote about evergreen ferns for this month. They're not wild flowers, but they are native plants!

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    1. They're in my wildflower book and they're wild to me! I hope you try Poke milkweed. You can find the seeds on the internet.

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  11. Poke Milkweed is, apparently, an Ontario native, but it's listed as rare. That, in itself, is an incentive for me to give it a go and I may actually have the perfect shady spot for it along a north facing wall.

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    1. Hi Margaret, please let us know how it does in your garden. I found a US nursery that sells seed and plants! Hope you can, too. gail

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  12. I love your adorable snowperson, Gail. It's interesting that there's a milkweed that will take to shade (and also, as Margaret points out, that it's native to Ontario). But, as always, the catch is that it needs moisture. This is the bane of my dry shady garden – a pot by the water barrel wouldn't suffice, as I'm horribly negligent about spot watering. Anything that lives with me (in my garden) has to not only stand up to dry shade but to withstand the Helen Method of gardening, sometimes called planticide. I'll watch Margaret's progress with interest.

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    1. Shade and milkweed doesn't sound right, but, it does exist. I am going to try it in a container. I will share my success or failure! xo gail

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  13. It's available from Prairie Nursery as plants or seed. I'm thinking of planting some this spring!

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    1. Jason, that's cool. I envy you Prairie Nursery.

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  14. This plant sounds sounds interesting! I looked it up and Niche Gardens carries the plants and Prairie Moon Nursery carries seeds.

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    1. That's where I saw the plant! I am ordering one, too.

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  15. (Looks guilty ... still need to find my milkweed seed, it got lost in moving)
    They are such intricate and beautiful flowers and I want to support our African monarchs.

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  16. That is beautiful. Knowing very well the hoya, which is its cousin in the same family, the flowers really look the same. And the pods are the same too just of course different in sizes. I have lots of hoya species, and i planted milkweed, Asclepias curassavica hopefully to entice our local monarchs. Unfortunately, only aphids come without any monarch at all. I think i will finally extinguish it because of the aphids. Let go of the monarch.

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  17. That was almost exactly what my suggestion for you was going to be, go ahead and grow it in a container somewhere protected. My sunshiny garden just has no place for this plant, so I’ll just admire it here.

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Let us be grateful to people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners
who make our souls blossom.


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