Traveling east of Tucson on I-10 there are a lot of expansive views of mountains and valleys that make up part of the basin and range district of Southern Arizona, Southern New Mexico and Northern Mexico. Although this trip is not necessarily ugly, it’s also not very memorable. There is however, one small stretch just before Willcox called Texas Canyon that tends to perk everyone’s interest. You’ve probably driven through there a hundred times before, but now you may finally have a reason to take the time and stop to explore this area.
The rock formations are amazing and bizarre, but the reason to stop is to check out the plant life that you really can’t see when traveling 75 mph on the interstate. This area is in Desert Grassland/Oak Woodland habitat which hosts some interesting plant combinations. Around the boulders dotted by Mesquite and Emory Oak, is the Pineleaf Milkweed or Asclepias linaria. This is a very popular plant for anyone wanting to attract butterflies and also makes a very attractive landscape plant. It’s a common plant in the nursery trade, but it’s not very common in the wild. What a treat to see!
Pineleaf Milkweed is found on rocky slopes and canyons from 1,500 to 6,000 feet in Southern Arizona and much of Mexico. Its nice, rounded form peaks out at about 3 feet high and wide. Dark green foliage resembles pine needles and is evergreen. White flower clusters appear from March through October, followed by papery, inflated seed pods that turn from pale green to tan at maturity. It is a hardy plant to at least the low 20 ̊s Fahrenheit and quite drought tolerant once established.
Pineleaf Milkweed is a butterfly magnet! Queen and Monarch butterflies love this plant as it is a valuable nectar source and a host plant for their caterpillars. In late summer and fall you can usually see all the life cycles of a butterfly on a single plant. Plant three or more and you will have clouds of Queens fluttering around your yard. It’s a very relaxing sight. If you would like to try Pineleaf Milkweed in your yard, pick a sunny spot with good drainage. Once your plants are established a deep watering every 7 to 10 days will keep them and the butterflies happy. This is a fairly fast growing plant and should only take a few seasons to reach full maturity. Pruning and fertilizing are not necessary for this virtually maintenance free plant.
– Leith Young