native plants

Asclepias tuberosa: The Butterfly Weed

Butterfly Weed: The Monarch Magnet

By: Lauren M. Liff for Dabah Landscape Designs

            It’s quite easy to imagine how the butterfly weed earned its name. Asclepias tuberosa is a beautiful perennial with nectar and pollen rich flowers that attract tons of beneficial insects and pollinators including hummingbirds, bees and yes, you guessed it, hordes of butterflies! This beautiful perennial produces unique clusters of blooms all summer long and they range in color from bright orange to yellow and red. Being that the butterfly weed is a North American Native, it is fairly easy to grow and once established, requires little effort in terms of maintenance.

            Cousin to the milkweed, butterfly weed plants typically reach heights between 12 and 36 inches. The brightly colored blooms sit atop fuzzy green stems surrounded by lance-shaped leaves. Although it is related to the milkweed, this species does not have the milky-sapped stems as the other milkweeds do. This beauty normally grows wild in meadows, open woods, prairies, fields and along roadways however it has enormous garden bed potential. For garden use, they look fantastic when planted in wildflower meadows, garden borders, rock gardens and even as a mass planting in a perennial bed. They require full sun and will thrive in sandy or rocky soil; once established, the butterfly weed is also drought tolerant.

            When planting the butterfly weed, make sure to put it in its permanent place in your garden as the roots are long and very sturdy making transplantation incredibly difficult. Once planted, keep the soil moist until the butterfly weed is established and starts showing new growth – after that it requires occasional water (but keep in mind, it does prefer dry soil). When pruning your butterfly weed, you can trim old growth every spring to keep it happy and healthy. Do not fertilize this perennial as it might actually do the opposite of what is intended and harm the plant. The butterfly weed is susceptible to mealybugs and aphids however these can be easily controlled with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.

            In the fall, the flowers give way to spindle-shaped seedpods, which are admired when cuttings are used in arrangements of dried flowers. The butterfly weed is self-seeding unless the seedpods are removed. The pods split open and the silky-tailed seeds are dispersed by the wind. An interesting fact about this perennial is that aside from going by the name “butterfly weed” it is also referred to as pleurisy root due to the fact that the plant roots were previously used for medicinal purposes to treat lung inflammations. 

            Asclepias tuberosa will obviously work famously in a butterfly garden. Not only do the blooms provide nectar and pollen, but also the thick leaves are perfectly designed for chrysalis formation. To start a butterfly garden, plant your butterfly weed alongside Coreopsis, Echinacea and butterfly bush (to name a few). Throw in a birdbath to provide water and some large rocks to give the butterflies a spot to catch some rays and before you know it, you will have your very own backyard butterfly sanctuary!


Echinacea purpurea: The Purple Coneflower

Echinacea: The Magical Cure-All Coneflower

By: Lauren M. Liff for Dabah Landscape Designs


Echinacea purpurea is arguably one of the most common plants one will see in a typical New Jersey Landscape. They are very showy, and, because they are native to Eastern North America, they are easy to grow and require little maintenance. This beauty is also pollinator friendly by attracting bees and butterflies and is also deer resistant. Not as obvious as its outward beauty are the medicinal properties contained within the plant.

Echinacea, also known as the eastern purple coneflower, displays flowers with showy lavender petals surrounding a brown spikey looking center. The single flower sits atop a long green stem adorned with rough, almost spiny-feeling leaves that grow smaller as they move up the stem. The coneflower prefers full sun and can grow in a wide range of soil types including clay. It’s become a fan favorite because of its ability to bloom heaviest in late summer while withstanding the higher temperatures.

This wildflower makes a great addition to any landscape as a massing or border plant as well as in rain gardens and butterfly gardens (commonly in combination with Rudbeckia or the Black-Eyed Susan). The coneflower can shoot out a second round of blooms in the fall and the stems should be left up with the spent bloom intact during the winter. The center cones provide a food source for common backyard birds that will feast on the seeds—it is best to prune the stems back mid-spring.

Echinacea is among a group of ornamental plants that have been recognized as medicinal herbs. These ornamentals were traditionally used by the Native Americans and are now widely recognized by modern herbalists. Of all the species of Echinacea, the purple coneflower is probably the most studied for its medicinal properties. Native Americans used it as a cure-all herb but it has been used as a short term cold treatment as well has an immune system booster. Recently researchers have found that it shows chemopreventive potential by inhibiting tumor growth and pain chemicals. As the research progresses, it is said that the purple coneflower shows promise as an adjunct treatment for cancer!