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Grow A Little ‘Railroad Annie’ | Cape May


“Railroad Annie” aka Butterfly Weed


Stephen Fiedler for the stream

I really like native plants which have beneficial qualities, but I don’t mind having a difficult life. One such plant is Butterfly Weed; aka asclepias tuberosa, pleurisy root, yellow milkweed; or just call her Railroad Annie, a “queen of the road” among perennial pollinating plants!

Now, this plant should not be confused with Butterfly Bush, an invasive plant not native to China and Japan (buttleia davidii). Butterfly grass is native to most of the United States and eastern Canada. It gets its popular name from the fact that it has been found historically in gravelly soils along railroad tracks, roadsides, surface mines and other disturbed areas. These days, you are more likely to see invasive plants like Sky Tree, Autumn Olive, Multi-flowered Rose, Asian Bittersweet, Mugwort, etc. Here and there, it still reminds us of its legitimate status!

This perennial is not a weed; and it is very valuable for its service to our essential pollinators that hold the fragile food chain together. It is reminiscent of the more famous milkweed, which is not a weed either. In fact, “Railroad Annie” is a larval host plant for the monarch butterfly, queen butterfly and tussock milkweed. It is a favorite of many bees, wasps, beetles and other beneficial insects which pose no threat to humans.

Ideally, deer and other mammals leave it alone for the most part. To attract its desired visitors, Butterfly Weed has bright and cheerful orange / yellow flowers, which bloom from June to August in dense clusters on the top of the plant. They support each other when given the opportunity by growing in clusters. They are typically 2 to 3 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide. It is important to note that it can grow in coastal areas that are not regularly submerged in salt. This helps the very important coastal migration of the monarch butterfly.

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