Oval-Leaf Milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia) Quick Facts:
Host and nectar plant for Monarch butterflies
Native to the Upper Midwest and Canada
Hardy in USDA zones 3-5
Full to partial sun (prairie/woodland)
Sandy to loamy soil, or well draining, drought tolerant
Creamy white flowers bloom in summer
Shorter than most – up to 2 feet tall
Space 1 foot apart
Gows well in containers
Oval-Leaf Milkweed Plants
Stealing the Show Where Others Can’t Grow
If you have space constraints, the Oval-leaf Milkweed may be just the butterfly host/nectar plant you need! This unusual milkweed does not grow taller than two feet high, and its smaller size makes it one of the few milkweeds that can actually thrive in a container. Also, if your garden has few areas of full sun, the Oval-leaf will flower in partial shade or locations with only part-day sun. Most other milkweeds need a generous daily dose of sun to achieve their full potential.
It is hardy in USDA zones 3-5, and prefers drier conditions and sandy or loamy soils, although if drainage is good, it will grow in other soils. Increasingly difficult to spot in the wild, the plant can sometimes be found in the dry areas near a roadside, in prairies or woodlands, forming small colonies with underground rhizomes (non aggressive). Sometimes called the Dwarf Milkweed, this wildflower gem is a great addition to a rock garden!
Small Is Beautiful!
A single reddish stem supports a cluster or two of elegant creamy white flowers tinged with green, pink, or purple. The floral clusters themselves are about two inches wide and appear for three weeks or so in June or July. Its graceful oval-shaped leaves are a Monarch caterpillar’s dream, so these plants are valuable “double-duty” garden additions that provide nectar and serve as a larval host.
And do you like birds? If the bright yellow and black feathers of a goldfinch delight you, you’re in luck! The Eastern Goldfinch gathers the silky tufts of the Oval-leaf Milkweed’s seed pods to help it build its nest.
The Dwarf Milkweed’s small stature makes it easy to pair with other plants. One of our favorite combos is with the Showy Milkweed, available here. The Showy Milkweed is a foot or two taller than the Oval-leaf, and its pinkish blossoms will complement the rosy undertones of the Oval-leaf’s flowering clusters. It can be nestled into a (large!) container with the Oval-leaf, or they could be neighbors in a bed.
Butterflies Love Choices!
It’s hard to predict with total accuracy what will attract butterflies from season to season and from garden to garden. For this reason, most successful butterfly gardeners include several varieties of nectar and host plants from which their winged guests may choose.
Nestle a couple of these rare Oval-leaf Milkweed beauties in your garden or containers today!
Growing Oval-Leaf Milkweed from Seed?
Oval-leaf milkweed seeds should be sowed in the fall or cold stratified (at least 30 days) before planting in the spring. Find a location with good drainage (the plant likes dry soil) and partial sun. This milkweed can be planted in large containers or in a rock garden. Plant the seeds about 1/8″ deep. Once past the last frost, the seeds germinate in 2-3 weeks. Space the plants 12-18″ apart. Do not overwater! Water the soil once it is nearly dry.
Photo licenses: Creative Commons