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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Thursday - October 31, 2013

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Butterfly Gardens, Propagation, Seeds and Seeding, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Winter care of Asclepias tuberosa from Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We have several asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed). Monarch caterpillars have found and denuded them. We are excited about all of the Monarch caterpillars, but unsure of what to do next. What do we do with the bare stems? Should they be cut back, should we wait until spring? Will the bare stems grow new leaves?

ANSWER:

We would not worry about the bare stems of the Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed). If you follow that plant link to our webpage on the plant you will learn that it dies back to the ground in the Fall. It sounds to us like it is doing its proper job at the proper time. Reading this paragraph on propagation from that webpage should reassure you:

"Propagation

Propagation Material: Root Cuttings , Seeds
Description: The easiest method of propagation is root cuttings. In the fall, cut the taproot into 2-inch sections and plant each section vertically, keeping the area moist.
Seed Collection: Watch plants closely for seedpods in late summer/early fall. Allow seeds to completely mature before collecting seed to establish new plants in another location. A long pod is produced containing hundreds of seeds with tufts of long, silky hairs (an adaptation for wind dispersal).
Commercially Avail: yes
Maintenance: Needs to be transplanted carefully and requires good drainage. It takes 2 – 3 years before A. tuberosa produces its vibrant flowers, which appear in 2 – 3 inch clusters of orangish-red. Once established, it lasts for years, becoming thicker each year."

This plant is a perennial, so it will be back next year in greater numbers,  but you can improve those numbers by following the instructions for root cuttings, and Fall is the precise time to do so. From our Image Gallery, the first picture below is of the mature plant, in bloom. The second shows the seeds and the third, the seed pods.

 

From the Image Gallery


Butterflyweed
Asclepias tuberosa

Butterflyweed
Asclepias tuberosa

Butterflyweed
Asclepias tuberosa

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