June Wildflower of the Month: Swamp Milkweed
By Ginger Laurits
Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is an excellent native plant choice for your backyard garden. It is a “well-behaved” perennial which means it usually stays where it was planted. In the wild, swamp milkweed grows in wet meadows, marshes and along the shores of lakes and streams. Although a wetland plant, in the home garden it tolerates moist to moderately dry conditions in sun/part sun (though not dry, sandy soil). It reaches three feet tall, topped with light pink, fragrant blossoms that attract many pollinators, including butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. All milkweed species provide a much-needed food source for Monarch caterpillars and butterflies.
Plant swamp milkweed with New England aster, bell flower, coneflower, liatris, wild iris, and boneset for a wonderful native plant border. It also makes a great addition to the edge of a pond or stream, or in a rain garden. Although summer aphids may pay a visit (they need to eat, too!), the plant tolerates them without much damage. Swamp milkweed is deer resistant, which means it is not a preferred food. With its value to wildlife, attractive habit, and deer resistance, swamp milkweed is indeed a super-plant and a great addition to your home garden.
Growing Swamp Milkweed
Swamp milkweed is easy to grow from seed. To grow your own swamp milkweed, plant seeds in a pot outdoors in the fall, winter or early spring. The wet, cold conditions mimic wild seed propagation in nature and the seeds will germinate in mid spring.
Swamp Milkweed Fun Facts
The genus, Asclepias, is named for the Greek god of medicine, which attests to milkweed’s numerous medicinal properties that include diuretic, emetic, parasitic, digestive aid, rheumatism, and conditions of the lungs. Asclepias incarnata is toxic to humans and animals when ingested in large amounts. It strengthens the heart in the same way as the highly toxic digitalis. Like some other medicinal plants, swamp milkweed is not an herbal remedy for the lay person (always consult an experienced professional before consuming herbal medicine). The species, incarnata, refers to the flesh color of the blooms.
— Ginger Laurits is a Wild Seed Project board member and a master gardener who tends the native garden at the Wells Reserve.