What a Difference a Week Makes

Fewflower milkweed, April 26

Nestled among the ferns lining the boardwalk at the Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve, this pretty orange milkweed fairly glowed. Initially, its color tempted me to think I’d found butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), but the purplish cast to the flower’s center, the single stem, and thin leaves suggested otherwise.

In fact, I’d come across fewflower milkweed, Asclepias lanceolata. A species native to coastal plains of the United States from New Jersey to Florida to southeastern Texas, its bright, reddish-orange flowers frequently appear in marshes, or wet pine barrens characterized by well-draining sandy or loamy soil. A host plant for monarch, queen, and soldier butterfly larvae, A. lanceolata also provides nectar for adult butterflies and insects.

Tall, with lance-shaped leaves opposite one another on the stem, the plant  branches near the top into one to three umbels.  Each contains an average of only seven flowers, giving the milkweed its common name: fewflower. When I returned to the preserve a week after finding the plant with partially opened flowers, nearly all in its three umbels had opened, making its few flowers very impressive, indeed.

The same fewflower milkweed on May 3


Comments always are welcome.
Extra credit if you already know which song gave rise to the title.


69 thoughts on “What a Difference a Week Makes

  1. Normally, I’m not too fond of the color orange. That goes way back to elementary school, but I won’t bore you with the details. I’d never heard of fewflower before, but I’m amazed at the difference only a few days has made in this one! Thanks so much, Linda, for going back and capturing it for us.

    1. Isn’t it funny how our color preferences develop? Sometimes there’s an obvious reason, as there must be for you and orange, and sometimes it’s ‘just one of those things.’ I will say I find this color more pleasing than Halloween orange; there’s just enough red in it to make it really pop.

      Plants can change faster than I’d ever imagined. There have been a couple of times when I’ve wanted better photos of a particular plant, and if it’s in the neighborhood, I’ve learned to go back as soon as possible. When they decide the show’s over, it’s over!

    1. I’d only seen photos of this one, and it certainly measured up in real life. Seeing it among a spread of ferns and other assorted greenery was lovely; it certainly wasn’t hidden.

  2. This is a new species of milkweed for me. We have Butterfly Milkweed in our garden and when it blooms it is gorgeous. Ironically it seems to attract few butterflies. We also have Common Milkweed and Swamp Milkweed which are greatly favoured by Monarchs. This is a wonderful, cheery burst of colour, Linda. Not a bad way to start the day!

    1. My memories of milkweed from childhood and youth are only of the pods and fluff. It wasn’t until I began paying attention to native plants that I was introduced to the flowers. There’s such a variety, even though the basic structure is the same. I was surprised to find that this species is host not only to monarchs, but also to queen, and soldier butterflies, though I didn’t see insects of any sort visiting while I was taking photos.

    1. There’s something about vibrant color that’s cheering, isn’t there? This is far more dramatic than the milkweeds I see most often in my area.

  3. Really beautiful flowers and photos. I like that color, though orange isn’t one of my favorites. I seem more attracted to orange as I age.

    1. I wonder what it is about orange? I’ve come across several people recently who’ve admitted ambivalence about the color. I enjoy it in small doses, especially when paired with pink or purple.
      I did find some A. tuberosa this same day, and oh, my! You should have seen the swallowtails fluttering around it. In fact, I think I might have caught a glimpse of a zebra swallowtail, but it was only a glimpse — enough that my mind registered ‘black and white?!’ Its range just edges into east Texas, so it’s possible.

      1. You know, I’ve wondered that about myself: why do I not like orange? It’s cheerful (always a good thing), bright and rich (what colors are). For years, I didn’t have orange in my garden–then, I relented. Now, I grow several plants that are orange and am so happy with them. Sometimes, all the time, it’s good to keep an open mind.

    1. There are some real treats to be found. How to turn the photos into a post is the next question — I always want to show them all, immediately. Of course, you wouldn’t know anything about that (she says, grinning).

      Did you see the notice that TP&W is opening up overnight camping on the 18th? Here’s one link.

    1. Well, we’re in the same boat, because I’d never seen it, either. It certainly is a beauty. Is it your soil that’s problematic? It’s too bad you can’t get some other species to flourish. A. tuberosa is a good one, though. Every time I come across it, there are at least a few butterflies around.

      1. My soil is pure gumbo. My kids dug up some of the clay and made pots from it. Luckily, I can grow at least one kind of butterfly weed. I had a good crop of Monarch caterpillars this year and they ate all of the plants, but they will grow back for the Fall.

    1. It is a nice variation on the color combination, isn’t it? Even when seen just with the eye, nature had provided a nice, simple background of ferns to set off the milkweed, and it was glorious. I’m not always happy with the correspondence between a plant’s ‘real life’ color and what I record with the camera, but in this case, that red-orange is just right.

  4. I never knew milkweed had such beautiful flowers.
    (You really have been learning how stupid I am when it comes to growing plants!)

    1. Not stupid, GP — just inexperienced, maybe. Don’t forget that I didn’t have a clue what this was when I photographed it. A little research was required to finally identify it. I’ve found a couple more species recently that are real treats; one was pink, and the other white. They’ll show up in time.

    1. What a great interpretation. The milkweed was putting on quite a show, so spotlights would have been justified. I’d not thought about those in ages. Hollywood openings aside, I remember them being used at car lots when I was a kid. I don’t know if they increased sales, but they certainly attracted attention.

    1. I’d never seen a milkweed like this one, either. From what I’ve read, they’re common enough, but they’re common in areas away from my home base, so finding one was a treat. East Texas really is a different world in many ways; of course, that means lots of puzzles to be solved when I find things that are wholly unfamiliar.

    1. In truth, I don’t get over to the Watson preserve as often as I’d like, nor to other of the hiking trails in the Big Thicket. It’s a two-and-a-half hour drive, and that makes for a long day. In the past, I’ve sometimes stayed overnight to make early morning and late afternoon photography possible, but it will be a while before I try anything more than a day trip.

      Still, I went on successive Sundays to get photos of some other plants, and I was lucky enough to see this change in the milkweed. Like you, I was completely taken with that color — so beautiful!

  5. In your second photo, it looks like the left one has six flowers and the right one eight–is that right? You did say they average seven, so I suppose considerable variation is expected. Real beauties!

    1. But don’t forget — there are three umbels in that photo, not two. And the third, the one in the back with the buds, also had opened flowers. I know there were two, and maybe three, so the count per umbel is indeterminate. If it had occurred to me to count them, I could have told you, but at the time I didn’t know this is a ‘fewflower’ milkweed, or that the number of flowers is a distinguishing feature!

    1. You’re right, Gerard. I’m so glad I went back and was able to record the development. Sometimes we see something noteworthy, and don’t realize that it’s only a preview of coming attractions.

  6. Wow, what an amazing sight. Those flower petals are so very precise in their arrangement. Nice to discover something unusual too!
    Have you heard the Amy Winehouse version?

    1. I love the complexity of milkweed blooms. The showy upper part, the corona, consists of five hoods, each of which encloses a horn (modified filaments of the anthers). The corolla, the five petals that form the lower part of the flower, are bent backwards, or ‘reflexed,’ in most species. Even when a species isn’t known, it’s easy to look and say, “Milkweed!”

      I have to confess that even though I’ve heard Amy Winehouse’s name, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard any of her music. I did just look her up, and was intrigued to find that she’s a member of the so-called “27 Club” — the group of musicians who died at age 27, including bluesman Robert Johnson. I wrote about the group once, and I just went back to see if I’d included Winehouse. I hadn’t. Maybe it’s time for a revision and a repost.

  7. It’s great the US has so many native milkweed varieties. I will strive to get to know as many as I can in my lifetime. I agree that they are highly complex, and they do transform themselves when they bear seed, at least I saw this once. Beautiful images Linda. Hope I can see enough of them before spring is over.

    1. Dinah Washington won a Grammy for ‘What a Difference a Day Makes’ in 1959, but it was María Grever (14 September 1885 – 15 December 1951) who composed the song “What A Difference A Day Makes” (originally “Cuando vuelva a tu lado”). María Grever was highly prolific and wrote more than 800 songs, the majority of them boleros, and her popularity reached audiences in Latin America, Europe, and the United States. She was the first female Mexican composer to achieve international acclaim. Luis Miguel is a young Mexican vocalist who has interpreted several classical composers: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Zfvbb_HlMk). I’m glad you brought this up. Thanks.

      1. The singer Luis Miguel may be a bit too young. However, Natalie Cole paid homage to María Grever in a recording she made with Arturo Sandoval, a master trumpet player from Miami, in which she sang the song both in Spanish and in English:

          1. She also recorded an album in Spanish, and beautifully done too. Her father had huge success in Latin America and recorded several albums in Spanish also.

      2. Thanks for the link and the information, Maria. It all was new to me. My first thought when I opened the video was, “I hope it won’t be long before such events are possible again.” Caution is necessary and good, but over-reaction can be tempting.

    2. I was quite surprised to learn how many species can be found in Texas: over thirty, as I recall. It’s fun to see the differences among their seed pods, too. Some of our milkweeds have pods that are slender and smooth, rather than chunky and rough, like those I grew up with. Around here, certain varieties will bloom well into fall: certainly September, and even October. It makes sense to me now, since they provide sustenance for migrating butterflies.

  8. Beautiful flower. Very interesting comparison shot, Linda. The different angles made it seem like a different plant. I had to scroll back and forth. Speaking of changes in plants, our yellow rose is now so bursting with flowers I feel like I could sit under it and read at night.

    1. It most assuredly is the same plant, Curt. If there had been another in the vicinity, there’s little question I would have noticed it — not with that color! I love your comparison of the rose to a light. Given your photos, I can well imagine it glowing brightly enough to read by: maybe a novel, but maybe a gardening catalog.

      1. Laughing, Linda. I’d be reading the novel; Peggy the gardening catalogue. And I agree. It was definitely the same flower. I just had to look twice. –Curt

  9. The flowers have such an interesting construction, particularly in the center — kind of an exploded engineering diagram vibe. And such a vivid color to them. Your “macro” photos always strike me as being so saleable. I could see so many of them as decorative art prints. If you had a giclée printer and an Etsy site . . .

    1. Now I’m grinning. If I had a giclée printer and an Etsy site, I’d have another job, and that’s the last thing I want. I learned with boating what can happen when a passion becomes a business. It’s worked out fine, and I’d not change my decision, but it’s made me cautious about writing books or selling photos.

      The bit of purple in the center of these seems to me the perfect complement to that vibrant red-orange. I can’t remember wearing the colors together, but I think I could be tempted.

  10. It’s a beauty. We have a few species of milkweed up here and they are all lovely flowers. Is this one as heavily scented as ours. Hard to answer but you can tell if the scent is strong and appealing. While we allow milkweed to grow in our yard for the butterflies we have always had it for the wonderful perfume. If this was ranged here then we would encourage it for its color as well.

    1. I wasn’t aware of any scent, but of course this was the extent of the colony: one plant with three umbels. If there were more, there might have been a noticeable scent, but I’m not sure. I’ve found with other plants, like the rain lily, that it takes a pretty substantial stand for the fragrance to become noticeable. Steve S. kept talking about the rain lilies’ fragrance, and I thought I was losing my sense of smell. Then, I came across an entire lot filled with them and said, “Oh!”

  11. A gasp of delight to see a favourite colour! I’m cautious with red, but bold with orange, and yes, in the mood I team it with purple.
    Pleased to learn more about this milkweed group.

    1. Isn’t it a wonderful orange? It’s the red that give it the glow, and the touch of purple is just right. There was some of the so-called butterfly weed (Asclepius tuberosa) around, too, but it’s more of a pumpkin orange: vibrant, but not nearly as attractive to my eye. I’ll have some photos of it one of these days.

  12. Nice color. I don’t see much milkweed around here, probably because I don’t get out of the neighborhood much and folks seem genetically opposed to planting something with “weed” in its name.

    1. There are a lot of great plants with ‘weed’ in their names, even though they’re quite beautiful, or useful, or both. I was interested to find that the Pacific Northwest is a little thin in the milkweed department. I found only three species at all common in Oregon, while Texas has thirty or more, depending on whose count you rely on. I might have seen ten of our species — I’ve got some exploring to do, myself.

        1. As far as I know, yes. Monarchs require milkweed, of course, but other butterflies will feed on them as well. The day I took this photo, I found a lot of swallowtails nectaring on Asclepius tuberosa, and some little butterflies I’ve not yet identified. I went looking around and found this really nice article that’s filled with accessible information about it all.

    1. I was surprised that I didn’t see any insects around it, but there were large stands of native azaleas and other milkweeds blooming, and they were attracting plenty of butterflies and bees. The color was just fabulous. I like all milkweeds, but this might be the prettiest one I’ve seen.

    1. This one has quite a limited range. In fact, I’d never seen it before, since it’s confined to east Texas and doesn’t make it into my area. But, gracious — I’m glad to have seen it at least once.

  13. That milkweed is absolutely gorgeous. I wonder how many species of milkweed are native to Texas? I keep saying that I am going to plant the ones that grow in my county and somehow I never get around to it. There are some growing on my property about 20 miles southeast of where I live . I need to remind myself to get there and harvest some seed. My neighbor runs his cows on the grass but cattle do not bother it since it is supposedly toxic to animals and isn’t tasty anyhow.

    1. The number of milkweeds we have varies according to the source, but this publication lists thirty-seven (if I counted correctly). If you’re wanting to plant some, it might be worth checking the McLennen County Master Gardeners site. I know activities are cancelled for now, but most of those groups have native plant sales, as do many of the Native Plant Society of Texas chapters, and they often have local milkweeds for sale — easier than starting with seed.

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