The toughest of all the milkweeds

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Milkweeds have been getting a lot of attention in recent years, because of their importance to one of the most beloved butterflies in the world, the monarch. Not only do Asclepias species feed adult butterflies with their copious nectar production, the plants themselves are host plants for monarch butterfly larvae. They also feed the related striated queen butterflies. 

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desert milkweed
Asclepias subulata
Apocynaceae

  • usually grows 4' tall and wide

  • succulent, low water user

  • full sun

  • moderate to low water (terrace to top zones)

  • gets damaged at about 25ยบ F

  • cream nectar-producing flowers spring - fall

  • attracts monarch and queen butterflies, as well as a host of other arthropods

As cool as this is, we think the plants deserve more attention for other reason, like what nectar-spigots they are! We've noticed that desert milkweed (Asclepias subulata) is one of the most preferred flowers for native bees, butterflies, and a host of other nectar-loving creatures. 

Desert milkweed is also the toughest of all the milkweeds. While some species of Asclepias have proven troublesome to cultivate, desert milkweed has done well in the landscape because of its ability to tolerate a wide variety of conditions. 

This species doesn't take much water, That's probably not such a surprise for a plant native to the low desert, usually below 3000' in elevation. It's most common in the driest part of Arizona where few other things are happy. 

Plant desert milkweed in full sun, and give plants good drainage, moderate water, and watch them grow like madness! Well-watered plants tend to attract orange aphids. Don't panic! They don't really do any damage to the plants or to any larvae being hosted on the plant. In fact, they tend to be great food for ladybugs. So leave them alone. 

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Katherine Gierlach