This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V22", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Many varieties of the Asclepiadacse or Milkweed family, natives of Virginia, are now brightening the woods and fields by their showy flowers. Among others, the variegated Milkweed or A. variegata, with its compact rose like heads, of nearly white flowers, with just a ring of purple belting each blossom as if to give it a right to its name, attracted my attention by its singular beauty as its white ball of flowers showed through the woods.
I made my way with difficulty to the spot where it grew, and found it as handsome on closer inspection as I had considered it from a distance. Its leaves were large, nearly smooth, and a rich deep green color. This grew about two feet from the ground, and was in full flower early in June The next species I noticed was A. rubra, or red flowered milkweed, growing in an uncultivated field. Its leaves were oblong-ovate, tapering to a very sharp point, rounded or slightly heart-shaped at the base, its flowers, a dark red color, do not grow in the same compact mass at the summit of the stem as those of the first-named variety, but have a loose, disheveled appearance, which renders the plant unfit for garden decoration at present. I have an idea, however, that its ragged, straggling habit might be to some extent corrected by proper cultivation, and to those who understand such things I should think it might, be possible to cross the A. rubra on the A. variegata, and thus get some of the erect compactness of the one to amend the faulty habit of the other.
These plants are as well worth our attention as many that are sold now by the florists, and making new varieties would give a different interest to their cultivation. Those who are denied the luxury of a gardener, and attend personally to their plants, have many compensations in the success that sometimes crowns their labors and in the feeling of individual interest in each plant. And although some of us make heavy mistakes in our treatment of them, close attention and observation of their tastes gradually teach us the secret of success even at the cost of many disappointing experiences. It is often tiresome to give up an interesting occupation and go out to dig up a yellow half-dead geranium, but your interest is soon awakened in finding out the cause of its ill health, which sometimes proves to have been improper soil, or want of drainage, or even an ant-bed at the bottom of the pot, any of the above-named evils sufficiently accounting for its condition.
But I have wandered from the varieties of Asclepias to which I had intended devoting this article, and it would surely be incomplete with the Butterfly Weed or A. tuberosa, left out. It is not common for this plant to bloom as early with us, but this year I found its cluster of bright orange colored flowers in the latter part of May. The stems are round, very hairy, and of a reddish color; the leaves are scattered and supported on petioles little more than the eighth of an inch in length; they are deep green above, and much lighter on the under side. The flowers are situated in terminal corymbose umbels, and are brilliantly colored. The seeds, like the rest of the genus, are furnished with a long silky appendage. The root of this variety is highly spoken of for its medicinal qualities, and the genus to which it belongs takes its name from ∆sculapius, the god of Medicine. As says Dr. Barton, in his description of it: "I have seen these three varieties blooming at the same time this year, and think by massing them and cultivating highly, a pretty bed might be made of them for the garden or lawn".
[There are few genera of plants more beautiful than the Asclepias, and if Miss Hunter's notes should lead to a better appreciation of them in garden culture, she will have rendered good service to floriculture. Some of them are delightfully scented. - Ed. G. M].