Common name: Blood flowers, Cotton bush, Tropical milkweed, Butterfly weed, Redhead, Scarlet milkweed, Orange milkweed
Bloodflowers are so attractive to butterflies that they are changing migratory habits of Monarch butterflies. Bloodflowers can flower year-round in warm weather, and this prevents the Monarch butterfly from migrating to better pastures, affecting their behavior and population.
These beautiful plants belong to the milkweed family of Apocynaceae; all the plants in this family having a milky sap that exudes from stems, leaves and flowers when they are plucked or broken. Bloodflower plants can grow to a height of 1-1.5 meters, and have a light gray stem. Their leaves are thin and long, green, lanceolate and opposite.
Bloodflower plants produces bunches of red, orange and yellow flowers, about 10-20 flowers in each bouquet. Sepals are green and not visible underneath the petals. There are 5 distinct downwardly-turned petals that are red or yellow, depending on the species.
The most striking feature of bloodflowers are the tall corolla tube that’s raised about 6-8mm from the petals. They are yellow or orange and look like pretty goblets that stand above the flowers. Bloodflowers produce abundant nectar making them extremely attractive for butterflies, bees, ants and small birds. The plant can flower throughout the year in warm tropical weather. These plants need good sunlight, sufficient water and a well-drained soil to grow well.
They also produce 5-10cm long fruits called follicles that contain brown, oval seeds that are extremely hairy. These fluffy white hairs help them to fly in the wind or float in water, when the follicles split open at maturity. Since they are considered noxious weeds in some part of the world, the flowers are pruned before they can produce seeds and spread.
Bloodflower has another beautiful variant that’s completely yellow, called the ‘Silky Yellow’. Bloodflowers are ideal plants for butterfly gardens since they are loved by most species of butterflies. But while growing them in your gardens, be careful of the milk sap that can cause irritation to the eye and skin, on contact. Ingestion can cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, headache and vertigo.
In spite of this, they have many medicinal uses, in treatment of constipation, snake bites, kidney stones, asthma, pneumonia, fungal infections, warts, cancer and spleen ailments. The name Ascelpias comes from the Greek God of healing, denoting the medicinal and healing properties of this unique plant.
Propagation is from seeds or stem cuttings.