One of the few evergreen milkweeds native to the Southwest, Asclepias subulata, also known as Desert Milkweed, is a fascinating plant species native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. This plant is a member of the milkweed family and is characterized by its narrow, needle-like leaves and small, white to pink flowers. It is adapted to the harsh and arid conditions of desert environments and plays a vital role in the ecosystem by providing food and habitat for various pollinators and wildlife.
Desert Milkweed is also of great cultural significance to indigenous peoples in the region, who have long used its fibers to create textiles and other objects. Despite its importance, however, this plant is threatened by habitat loss and climate change, making conservation efforts crucial for its survival. Through conservation and appreciation of this unique species, we can help protect the biodiversity and cultural heritage of the desert regions where it thrives.
Flowers: J F M A M J J A S O N D
Origin: Sandy washes in the arid regions of the southern intermountain west at lower elevations below 3000 feet including the upper reaches of the Sonoran Desert, eastern California, southern Nevada and into Baja California
Size: 2′ – 5′ high and wide
Sun: Full (shade tolerant under desert conditions)
Watering: Drought tolerant but benefits from supplemental watering
Growth Rate: Moderate
Soil: Prefers sandy well-drained soil but tolerates a wide variety of soil types
Temperature: Cold tolerant to 18 degrees F
Pruning: Head back severely to rejuvenate every 3 to 5 years
Disease and Pests: None (oleander aphids don’t seem to cause significant damage)
Uses: Nectar plant for a wide variety of insects. Host for Queen and Monarch butterflies. Special value to native bees.
Notes: Stems produce latex that may cause dermatitis upon contact. Often leafless when conditions are dry. All plants in the genus Asclepias are probably somewhat toxic, some fatally so, to both humans and animals.
Arizona is host to about 30 species of milkweeds (Asclepias) ranging from low desert to riparian corridors to grasslands and all the way up into pine forest zones.
Pay attention to where you’re buying a milkweed plant – large volume chain stores and some smaller nurseries treat plants with long lasting insecticides that can harm pollinators. Expect to see some aphids on milkweed plants most of the time; the absence of aphids may be an indicator that the plant has been treated with pesticides. If in question, ask the staff, although they may not be able to answer with certainty.
Aphids are not harmful to the plant and you should expect them on milkweeds in your garden. They also provide a food source for predators and a true ecological balance can only be achieved if you let nature balance the equation.
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