Resource item

Milkweed is still a popular native perennial for Mississippi gardens – Picayune Item

By Patricia Drackett

Director of the Crosby Arboretum and

Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture Extension in the Extension Service at Mississippi State University.

Although it has been over seven years since the Crosby Arboretum began receiving a constant barrage of questions from coastal gardeners looking for the best native milkweed species (Asclepias) to benefit the dwindling population of monarch butterflies, we continue to receive inquiries about Mississippi milkweed species, and seed sources.

Fortunately, garden trials conducted over the years as a result of these surveys have yielded some very useful information, which is now available on the Crosby Arboretum website. To read or download these resources, simply enter the keywords “Mississippi Milkweed Project” into your favorite Internet search engine.

Many gardeners may be familiar with common orange butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), but are unaware that there are approximately 70 other species native to the United States. About 15 of these species are native to Mississippi. The best species of milkweed to plant in a typical sunny garden bed in this region has been determined to be swamp milkweed (A. incarnata), which has a wide range of soil conditions in which it will thrive. Butterfly grass (A. tuberosa) also performs well, but while swamp milkweed can tolerate wet and dry soil, butterfly grass prefers to be in drier, gravelly soil. Water milkweed (A. perennis) is found on the mudflats of the Pearl River and has large seeds without “fluff” because its seeds are carried by water rather than wind. However, water milkweed prefers moist soil, plus some shade.

Posters on our website mention several milkweeds that may increase the density of existing milkweed stands growing in natural areas, such as long-leaved milkweed (A. longifolia) or pine milkweed (A. obovata), both present in Pearl River County. . Two native milkweeds are found at the Crosby Arboretum, small-flowered milkweed (Asclepias lanceolata) and long-leaved milkweed, two coastal species found in moist pine savannah habitats like our Pitcher Bog. southern purple.

While milkweed is the host plant of the monarch butterfly, i.e. it provides food for its larval form – the caterpillars, it is also an abundant producer of nectar and is beneficial to pollinators by general, as insect populations around the world are experiencing significant declines.

When designing your butterfly garden, include host and nectar plants to maximize the number of butterflies you will attract. If you’re lucky, your garden will be dotted with the green chrysalises of monarch butterflies. These amazing structures are trimmed with metallic gold dots. It’s an awe-inspiring sight to watch a monarch chrysalis turn from opaque green to clear, then a new butterfly emerge, usually within 5 or 10 minutes! Search the web for a video if you’ve never seen this show.

A commonly available milkweed is tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica. Although an attractive perennial with dark orange and yellow flowers, unfortunately, in addition to being invasive, this non-native species can harbor a disease that affects monarch butterflies, causing disabling deformities or the dead. Do a web search to learn more about research on this “OE disease” as well as the detrimental effects this non-native species appears to have on monarch migration patterns.

Green milkweed (A. viridis) is also found in Mississippi (but not in our coastal counties). It is widespread in other parts of the country. Although a useful species, it is site specific, preferring alkaline soils. Green flower clusters may not be to everyone’s taste, I find them very unusual and attractive. Butterfly weed is the most common species in Mississippi, growing throughout the state, and is also a common native perennial found in garden centers. However, if your garden doesn’t provide the right conditions, including the dry, well-drained soil it prefers, you’re out of luck.

If the subject of monarchs and milkweed interests you, be sure to do some research online. Visit the Arboretum’s Mississippi Milkweed page and study USDA range maps showing the distribution of our state’s milkweed species. See examples of swamp milkweed in our pollinator garden. Above all, stay connected, because we will continue to offer programs on this subject!

You can learn about some exceptional native Mississippi shrubs for your home landscape on Saturday, August 13 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. with Forest and Wildlife Biologist Robert Smith of Wildlife Mississippi who will lead a walk through Crosby’s plant communities. Arboretum. Many native shrubs provide valuable food sources for wildlife throughout the seasons. The cost of the program is $3 for members and $6 for non-members.

Registration is strongly recommended for all programs to guarantee you a place, as we will not always have room for walk-ins. Call 601-799-2311 to register. For more information, see our website calendar at or visit our Facebook page. The Arboretum is open 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and is located at 370 Ridge Road in Picayune at I-59 Exit 4. Leashed pets are always welcome!