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.
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Extra credit if you already know which song gave rise to the title.