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In the Highways, in the Hedges: Butterfly Weed


Butterfly Weed: Asclepias tuberosa, at Lake Fayetteville

At some point in the past, the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department had a nifty idea that I hope is being employed across the country: plant native wildflowers along our roadsides. It encourages the growth of native plants, supports our local pollinators, cuts down on mowing, and makes for some gorgeous driving. The only problem, for me, is some rubbernecking. I'm dying to know what "all that purple stuff" is, but - safety first! - no way I'm pulling over along a busy highway just to satisfy my curiosity. Lucky for me, enough driving has led me to places where it is safe to pull over, and many of these "roadside attractions" can also be found in the woods.


First up, "all that orange stuff." The only way you won't notice butterfly weed is if it's blending in with road construction signs. These flowers are bright, bright orange. A member of the milkweed family, it's native to most of the eastern states, and it's (you guessed it) a favorite of butterflies, particular monarchs. It acts both as a host plant, and as a source of nectar for mature butterflies. It's also drought- and heat-tolerant, making it ideal for our low-maintenance roadsides, and home butterfly gardens.


The AHTD offers maps of wildflower routes, as well as brochures detailing the flowers and the program: http://www.arkansashighways.com/wildflower_program/wildflower.aspx



Purple Milkweed: Asclepias purpurascens, at Lake Fayetteville

A quick "bonus milkweed" just because I love it. You are not likely to see Purple Milkweed along roadsides, but it's gorgeous, and is one of the flowers that I seek out when I know it's blooming.