Early Summer Prairie Garden

Early Summer Prairie Garden

Butterfly Weed and Pale Purple Coneflower

 Both Garden Walks held last Saturday and mentioned on my blog last Friday–AAUW and Northern Kane County Wild Ones–featured Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida), a striking orange and pink combination.

AAUW Garden Wal

AAUW North End Neighbors’ Association Butterfly Garden


river walkGeneva River Park

Pale Purple Coneflower and Butterfly Weed in a matrix of Side Oats Grama

Butterfly Weed is one of the most conspicuous flowers of the prairie.  It forms a 1’ to 2’ stiff upright clump of vibrant orange, flat-topped flower clusters that grow wider and showier every year.  In fall it produces pods filled with fluffy seeds that drift about on the wind and produce new plants where they land.


milkweed fluff 2

Pale Purple Coneflower in similar to the later blooming, more familiar Purple Coneflower  (Echinacea purpurea), but is petals are narrower and more reflexed  and a lighter and brighter pink.  It also grows taller–to 40” and has narrower leaves.


pale purple coneflower and prairie dropseed

Pale Purple Coneflower and New Jersey Tea growing out of a matrix of Prairie Dropseed with Butterfly Weed situated on the tier above.



front walk ppcf & bfw

Along my front sidewalk

wild qunine and butterfly weed

I also combine Butterfly Weed with Wild Quinine. The  white flowers of Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) grow in flat-topped clusters at the top of  2-4’ tall stems.   It puts on a longer show than any other prairie flower, looking as fresh in August as it does in June.


fron siewalk June

The radiant golden-yellow daisy flowers of Stiff Coreopsis (Coreopsis palmata). bloom at the top of 1’-3’ stiff stems.   Spreading by rhizomes, it makes luminous patches of sunshine throughout dry or sandy prairies from the last week in June until mid-to-late July.  Its unique, narrow, stiff leaves divide in the middle into a trident.   Because of its aggressiveness, I waited until my garden was mature before introducing it.

Whoever named Butterfly Bush was a marketing genius;  whoever named Butterfly Weed–not so much.  A weed is defined as an undesirable, unattractive, and  troublesome plant, growing where it is not wanted, such as in a garden.  Butterfly Weed certainly does not meet those criteria.   But while it is a member of the Milkweed Family (Asclepiadaceae) and Milkweed Genus (Asclepias), it does not have milky juice, so it was not referred to as “milkweed”, as all its cousins are; it’s just called “weed.”

A truly beautiful, but uncommon nickname, is Butterfly Love–now that would be a spectacular name.




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