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So…a long time ago, I planted the first swamp milkweeds (Asclepias incarnata) in my garden. They had a lot going for them: native, hardy, lovely fragrance, monarch (Danaus plexippus) caterpillar host, pollinator magnet. In my view, which most don’t share, the only strike against them is the flower colour, because I’m unfond of pink. I got those plants at a native plant sale in the region.

The next year I was wandering through one of the local big box nurseries and was surprised to find them for sale there. Surprised, because native wildflowers are seldom offered in/by big commercial nurseries, especially in their wild, unaltered forms (which I generally prefer). Close examination of the label didn’t show anything sketchy; the picture was of a pink bloom, and there was no cultivar name mentioned. It even had the Latin name as well as the common. So I got a couple and planted them.

Then the big name nursery plants bloomed white, which I was pleased about at first, but puzzled; after all, the label showed pink. Disappointment followed disappointment, because the inflorescences were small, the blooms were practically scentless, and pollinators completely ignored them in favour of the wild forms growing a couple feet away. The only wildlife interested in them were the oleander aphids (Aphis nerii).

Turned out the plants were most likely a cultivar known as ‘Ice Ballet’, and mislabelled somewhere along the way. Oddly enough, a lot of descriptions of ‘Ice Ballet’ say they are fragrant. I didn’t keep them; they were on the compost heap before the summer was over (I do drastic things when disappointed). And I learned a valuable lesson about blindly trusting labels.

Why this trip down memory lane? Well, every year I let a few volunteer seedlings grow; partly out of laziness, partly to preserve them in case the parents die, and partly out of curiosity to see how they perform in various parts of the garden. One swamp milkweed seedling from last year is now blooming white. It’s not as strongly scented as the original, but still more scented than those ‘Ice Ballet’ plants were.

I personally feel it’s a spontaneous mutation, although I suppose it’s just possible some ‘Ice Ballet’ genetic material did get carried over by a confused pollinator and preserved over the years. I have had odd things happen with the milkweeds before, such as a hybrid between Asclepias incarnata and A. tuberosa (butterfly milkweed). That particular example looked just like the A. incarnata parent in all ways, except the colour of the flowers was the exact same orange of A. tuberosa. That one was a surprise.

To confuse matters a bit more, there is another milkweed commonly known (among other things) as white swamp milkweed: A. perennis, although it isn’t found around here.

I haven’t decided what to do with this one. Too bad it wasn’t a darker mutation; now that would have been something.

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