Monarch Butterfly Plant with Golden Yellow Flowers
Blooming Silky Gold Milkweed
A Monarch Butterfly Plant
Have you ever found brightly colored caterpillars happily chomping away at one of your flower plants? I have and it was quite a surprise. Turns out this plant with beautiful golden yellow flowers was a favorite Monarch butterfly plant. Now, when I first took a cutting from my neighbor’s plant I had no idea that the plant with the pretty bright yellow flowers was a butterfly magnet. I just liked the look of the plant and the flowers.
This particular member of the milkweed family is known as the Silky Gold milkweed. In my
Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar on Yellow Milkweed I discuss how the Monarch butterfly larvae eat only milkweed for their sustenance. Across the country the Monarch will find a milkweed plant (there are many varieties out there), sip the nectar out of the flowers, lay a few eggs on the underside of the leaves and then flutter off to find its next meal and larvae host.
Asclepias is the genus name given to milkweed. There are over 140 types of milkweed species known. The plant sap or juice is what gives asclepias its common name of milkweed. The sap, which oozes out when the plant is cut or torn, looks like a slightly, thick milk. Of course, it isn’t milk and you should never drink it since it contains things like alkaloids, latex and cardenolides (basically noxious or poisonous compounds that I would not want to ingest).
The Silky Gold milkweed also has a botanical name. It is called the asclepias curassavica. It shares this name with Scarlet Milkweed or Bloodflower, since it a version of the more common Bloodflower. The difference is that Scarlet or Mexican milkweed has yellow flowers coming out of red buds while the Silky Gold milkweed is completely yellow.
The Yellow Flower Milkweed
Silky Gold Asclepias Propagation
As the yellow buds of the Silky Gold asclepias open, the golden yellow flowers pop out. Once fully open they provide a source of nectar for visiting insects. These include bees and wasps along with a variety of butterflies beside the Monarchs. Like many flowering plants the milkweeds depend on insects for pollination and the sweet offering within the flowers is used to attract these inadvertent pollinators.
While the insect is taking a drink a pollen sack will attach itself to the body or legs. When the insect moves on it well take the pollen sack along and, with a bit of luck, will deposit it on another milkweed plant. In time the flowers will drop off, seeds will develop in a pod, and eventually be released into the air. The seeds have a bit of plant silk attached to them which help them float off the pod in the lightest of breezes, literally scattering on the wind. This is the natural way for the milkweed to reproduce.
You can also take cuttings and re-root them, or dig up some stems with root and transplant them. That is what I did and how I ended up with my own Golden Yellow flowers. I dug up a couple of the smaller plants with a root ball from my neighbor’s much larger bunch of yellow milkweed and moved them over to my flower garden.
Silky Gold Milkweed Haiku
Yellow on tall stem
Green leaf the sunshine collects
Poison runs in veins
Yellow Buds for Silky Gold Flowers
Keeping Your Own Yellow Milkweed
If you live in a warm zone you can have these plants year round. In fact, the problem is not in having a live and growing plant but in keeping it from spreading too far. In warmer climes it can become an invasive plant although I haven’t seen that around here in my bit of South Florida. Except for the plants I dug up and transplanted into my garden the only other plant around here is my neighbors – the parent plant.
It is said in the circles of those whose business it is to know that these plants are great for the back of your flower garden and for growing out of planters. The plants will grow tall, about 3 to 4 feet tall according to the pundits. However, my neighbor’s plant is a good foot taller than I am and I stand 5 feet 5 inches, so like all natural things there are exceptions to the rule. Each plant can spread to about 3 foot in width which is why they are recommended to be at the back of the flower garden.
They will branch out and form clusters of stems with flowers at the end. Deadheading will encourage the plant to put out new blooms faster. You can also cut a few stems and use them for cut flower arrangements. If you don’t want the plant to reseed or spread via its seeds then cut the seed pods off when they emerge after the flower dies back. To keep seed for the next year or for controlled planting wait for the pod to mature and then cut it off just before it opens up and spills out the seeds. Then remove the seeds and store them in a safe place or re-plant in your chosen location.
These plants can easily be grown in planters. Use standard soil that retains moisture yet drains well as this Monarch butterfly plant isn’t a swamp loving milkweed. Water the plant as needed. It will tolerate some dryness but keep the cold away. A hard frost will kill this heat loving tropical plant although the root ball may survive and regrow after the frost is gone.
The Asclepias in Photos is Located in South Florida
Pods A Plenty
A week or so after I saw a Monarch butterfly fluttering around the silky gold milkweed, these pods started to sprout. At first there were only one or two visible, perhaps because they were small.
Over the next couple of days they grew longer and more of them became easily recognizable. The pods were almost 2 inches long when I took this picture. They blend in well with the plants long green leaves. At the moment, three of the four plants in my side garden are sprouting pods.
A Seed Pod Close Up
As you can see from the photo, the pods of the Silky Gold milkweed plant are rather long and somewhat narrow. This one is just under 3 inches long and was one of the larger pods on the plant the day I took the photo.
It had a nice firm feel to it. Although you could push the pod flesh in a bit, it would spring right back into its original shape.
Not all the pods on the plant were hiding behind the leaves. Fact is most of them stuck upwards away from everything. This makes sense if you think about it. The plant would want the pods up and away so when they opened up the seeds could disperse. The seeds are attached thin strands of material which help them float off into the breeze, almost like tiny parachutes.
Orderly Seeds in a Pod
Seeds are Packed in Rows
I have never seen a parachute being packed but I would imagine that it would take some careful planning to make sure the folds of the chute open up in the correct manner without tangling up.
Looks like the milkweed does the same same thing, on a much more miniature scale. Look how the seeds are lined up inside the pod, in a pair of rows. Actually appear very neat and precise. In-between you can see some of the plant silk peeking through.
This photo was taken in the morning just before I had to get myself moving to get to work. I found it on the plant just as shown, separated from the other half of the pod. I cut if off so I could take the photo, then left it lying on the table and headed out into the morning rush.
An Explosion of Seeds
The Seeds Release
While I was gone off to work, the seeds in the pod released. Perhaps the warmth in the room, the amount of light or just a matter of time was the trigger. No matter the cause when I returned home from work and went to show my girlfriend the neat looking rows of seeds in the pod, I found the exact opposite. Seeds were everywhere!
The good news was that now you can get a good idea of what the seeds look like when they are ready to fly. Check out how each of the seeds is attached to silky strands of white plant material. These strands of lightweight material, parachutes if you will, help the breeze scatter the seeds when they explode out of the pods.
Of course, these couldn't take off in the breeze since they were inside a house. So I collected them as best I could and took them outside. There I tossed them into the wind and watched them float off.
Most of them will not make it. That is the way it is with nature. Produce a bunch and hope some get the chance to sprout. Even those that do sprout will be very lucky to actually grow to maturity. Lawn mowers, chemical herbicides and just folks "pulling up the weeds" lessen the chances even more than what happens naturally.