The Butterfly Weed

The definition of a weed is “a plant in the wrong place.” I heartily disagree with the butterfly weed's common name. I love its dramatic presence in my garden.

It emerges in springtime as thin sprouts that grow into tall stems with lean leaves that quietly set the stage for a fireworks display in July. Vivid orange flowers explode at the top of each stem enticing butterflies to stop by for a drink.

A big surprise arrives in August. The plant becomes host to an intense gathering of brilliant orange-black insects. I was stunned the first time I saw them. I thought my plant was doomed, only to discover that the insects live on the plant for a brief period and never go anywhere else in the garden. The plant tolerates their presence just fine as they suck sap. The butterfly weed is a gracious host – welcoming both butterflies and bugs to its juice bar.

In fall, the green, slender seed pods turn lovely shades of brown. Inside, the seeds are setting the stage for nature’s grand finale. The pods slowly split open to reveal tightly packed seeds, poised, ready to spread their silky wing-clouds. They are in no hurry. One by one they disengage and catch a breeze. Gently they hover over the plant then poof – away they fly.

Destination unknown.