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weed with seed pod in wisconsin

Policeman's helmet

Species Assessment Groups (SAG) were assembled to recommend a legal classification for each species considered for NR 40. The recommendation for policeman’s helmet was based upon this literature review [PDF] developed by the department.


Leaves & stems: Fleshy, smooth, hollow stems with a reddish color. Stems are multi-branching with distinct swollen nodes. Leaves are large, simple and toothed with a pointed tip. Leaves are arranged opposite or are often whorled in groups of three.

Flowers: Flowers resemble an English policeman’s helmet, giving this plant its common name. Flowers are spurred, five parted and pink to white to purple in color. Flowers arise from the leaf axils.

Fruits & seeds: Seeds eject from mature seedpods when touched. Seeds are viable in the soil for 12-18 months.

Roots: Fairly shallow, fleshy roots.

Similar species: Policeman’s helmet could be mistaken for other members of the genus Impatiens. This species pinkish-purple flowers, swollen nodes and serrated leaves distinguish it from two native Wisconsin jewelweed species (Impatiens capensis, Impatiens pallida).

Butterfly Weed is 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year

Each year the Perennial Plant Association select its Perennial Plant of the Year, a plant that will receive heavy marketing and promotion throughout the season. These showcase plants are often proven growers across the United States, widely available and useful in many gardening situations.

Orange milkweed, or butterfly weed, has been awarded the honor for 2017. A colorful, compact, native variety of milkweed, orange milkweed is a wonderful choice for this special award.

Monarch magnet

The plight of the monarch butterfly is well known across the nation and what better plant to help these beautiful butterflies than orange milkweed. Monarchs use orange milkweed as both a host plant for their eggs and caterpillars and as a nectaring plant for the adult, winged butterflies.

In addition to monarchs, many other species of butterflies, as well as hummingbirds, enjoy the sweet nectar provided by this beautiful native perennial.

Compact and easy to grow

Orange milkweed is native here in Wisconsin, meaning it is quite hardy and adaptable to many garden situations. In the wild, orange milkweed prefers dry, open, sandy areas in full to part sun.

Many gardeners and landscapers, looking for ways to help monarch butterflies, choose orange milkweed because it is less aggressive and more compact than other varieties. Orange milkweed grows to a mature size of about 2 feet tall by 2 feet wide.

Though it can be touchy if placed in areas that are too wet, orange milkweed is easy to grow in drier areas. It can be grown easily from seed, however, patience is a virtue and the plant is slow growing at first. Once the plant reaches maturity, it will bloom profusely for years to come with little care.

Four season beauty

The beauty of butterfly weed lasts all four seasons. The fine, textured foliage provides beauty throughout the season while its flat clusters of bright orange blossoms decorate the plant from late May often into August. In some years, orange milkweed may still be in bloom in October, if conditions are right.

Following the bloom, the unusual and interesting seed pods begin to form and ripen. Long and narrow, the pods burst open to release their snow white, feathery seeds into the autumn winds. The seed pods turn a beautiful silvery color that remains beautiful all winter long.

Best in full sun, the brilliant color of orange milkweed makes an excellent companion plant to many other colorful perennials add grasses. Pair it with coneflowers in any color, daisies, Black-eyed Susan, blazing star, wild petunia, lupine, columbine, lilies, daylilies and other brilliant blooms.

In addition to the classic bright orange, there is also a variety of butterfly weed that blooms in bright yellow. This variety is called Hello Yellow.

Orange milkweed is a perfect choice for butterfly gardens, borders, perennial patches and pollinator plots. The plant is also largely avoided by deer, making it even more attractive to gardeners.