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Botanical name: Asclepias spp
Common names: Swamp milkweed, showy milkweed, Sullivant's milkweed
USDA zones: 3 to 9, depending on species (find your zone)
Light requirement: Full sun to some shade
Mature size: 2 feet wide and 3 to 4 feet tall
Benefits and tolerances: Spicy vanilla scent; attracts many butterflies; all varieties are somewhat adaptable to soil moisture
Seasonal interest: Plenty of midsummer blooms followed by autumn puffs of seeds
When to plant: Spring to midfall
Cultivars of swamp milkweed include this white-blooming 'Ice Ballet'. The scent is irresistible to monarch butterflies and many other winged insects, like beetles, moths and flies.
Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata, zones 3 to 6). Here's a closeup of swamp milkweed in bloom, with a bumblebee coming in for nectar. The flowers can be pollinated only if an insect slips a leg deep down into a specific spot of the bloom, which isn't often. (You can use that bit of knowledge on your next date night when the conversation lags.)
Red swamp milkweed looks fantastic massed and grows in well-behaved clumps with mauve blooms smelling like spicy vanilla. Contrary to its damp-sounding name, swamp milkweed can perform well in medium soil, preferring clay from anything wet to just slightly dry. It takes full sun or a bit of shade, averaging 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide.
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa, zones 4 to 7). Here is another milkweed species, shorter than the others (2 feet by 2 feet). For me and area experts, it's not a favorable plant for monarchs or other nectaring insects — it does tolerate dry and other problem soils, however.
How to use it. Milkweed can be massed in groups of three to five or planted individually among other perennials. Its small footprint means it can go just about anywhere.
Planting notes. Most milkweeds are somewhat adaptable to soil (swamp milkweed can grow in medium soils, not just wet, and Sullivant's can take it a little moist or a little dry, even though it prefers medium moisture). Any milkweed can be planted from early spring through October (mulch well in fall to prevent winter frost heave).
More plants to draw butterflies to the garden