- Full sun to very light shade
- average to dry soils. Does well in disturbed sites.
- 3' to 5' tall, individual plants tend to be roughly 12" wide but they run via rhizomes and can travel quickly if they are happy with their setting.
- Ontario Native. Easy to grow but not always suited to garden settings. Thrives in meadows and the sunnier spots in open woodlands.
This plant personifies the concept of “if you have abundance, don’t build a higher wall, build a bigger table”. They are big, bold and beautiful and they feed over 450 species of insects. They are also enjoyed by deer, which wander passed many of the vegetables in the garden to munch on fresh milkweed shoots in early June, and by yours truly as I gather some of the pods while they are still tender, parboil them and then fry them up for a very tasty treat. Flower buds and young shoots are also lovely early season vegetables. They do all of this and still manage to grow a bounty of seeds to establish the next generation.
They are not apologetic about filling in any disturbed space, filling gaps in the soil cover and the plant community with equal aplomb and generosity.
Strikingly architectural from a distance, incredibly intricate when viewed up close, beautifully fragrant for those who pause to smell the flowers. They provide habitat and a food source for an amazing diversity of species, far beyond the famous Monarch butterfly. They don’t fit neatly into spaces where order is enforced and plants are expected to only grow where they are told to, but they can make themselves at home in any sunny space that welcomes them, with all of their flamboyant personality, and will bring an incredible abundance of life along with them.
Heights vary with soil conditions and with the height of their neighbours, but frequently falls between 30” and 50”. Individual plants are usually around 12” to 18” across and are often distributed along the length of a horizontal rhizome. The rhizome tends to be 8” to 10” below the soil surface for the plants growing in my vegetable garden, so if you are trying to lift and relocate a mature plant, be sure to dig deep, since they often don’t make it if a section of the rhizome doesn’t come along with the rest of the plant.
Happiest in full sun, these can manage with a bit of light shade but they have relatives better adapted to woodland conditions if that is what your space is. I haven’t noticed them being too stressed by dry conditions, but they do grow more luxuriantly in the vegetable garden than elsewhere, so they certainly enjoy rich soil and regular watering. Blossoms appear in early to mid July, except for on the plants that get lopped by deer, they tend to bloom a bit later. If you don’t happen to have deer around to do the trimming for you, clipping a few plants in early summer will encourage tender re-growth in late summer which research has shown is most popular with Monarch butterflies as they lay their eggs.