Like many of the plants we grow for fun, we had no idea that giant milkweed was an Indian plant until a visitor told us.
We trotted off to learn more. It’s known as Yekka, Yerukku, Jilledi, Aak and Madar around India, and is revered as the favorite flower of Shiva. (Visit https://bangaloremirror.indiatimes.com/opinion/you/the-greenskeeper-giant-milkweed/articleshow/66019002.cms for more information.)
In our Florida yard, it’s a blessing for the monarch butterflies because its large thick leaves can feed more caterpillars than any of the other milkweeds we grow.
This is the variety with white flowers and a slight pink tinge; we haven’t been as successful propagating the plants with purple flowers.
It’s easy to grow outside as long as temperatures stay above freezing. It’s happy in a pot year-round, but if you plant it in the ground, be sure to take cuttings in the summer so you can bring the smaller plants inside for the winter.
Giant milkweed plants prefer full sun and well-drained soil but tolerate some shade and soggy feet. It’s a heavy feeder and its lower leaves will turn yellow and fall off unless it’s fertilized often. We use Neptune’s Harvest but you may want to switch to a chemical fertilizer like Miracle Grow 20-20-20 if you need to bring it inside for the winter. (Be sure to follow directions exactly — too much fertilizer kills plants much faster than not enough!)
If your giant milkweed gets leggy, trim the top and plant the cuttings in very damp soil in the shade. We get about 75% success rate but it’s highest in the summer when they’re actively growing.
And for monarch enthusiasts who rear caterpillars in cages, giant milkweed leaves can be refrigerated. You’ll be amazed at how many caterpillars a single leaf will feed. We don’t cage caterpillars here but we love the giant milkweed because it’s the butterfly’s last resort — meaning we usually have enough left to feed the caterpillars after they’ve destroyed everything else.