Milkweed plants have become increasingly popular due to the increased awareness of the monarch butterfly's declining population. Milkweeds really are a family of plants, some of which are native to central Ohio. They can be hard to find in big box nurseries, although they are becoming more widely available. As shown in these two images above, this is creating problems. The picture on the left has a plant tagged as "butterflyweed". The Latin name actually identifies it as swamp milkweed, but there is no legal obligation to label it as such, as long as the Latin name is listed. I find swamp milkweed growing in the wild near, you guessed it, water. Despite personal observations, it will perform alright in an average garden setting, as long as the site isn't overly dry and hot, like a south facing wall of a building.
The image on the left is pretty self explanatory. This is the plant identified as butterfly weed to most of us. It needs the dry and hot location, like the south facing wall of a building. Both are great plants, and have their place in the right location. Both plants should be planted more often to provide food for monarch larvae. The labeling is deliberately misleading only to sell more plants. Are these big nurseries scared to have something on the shelf called swamp milkweed because they think it won't sell? I firmly believe they do.
I strongly recommend having at least some kind of milkweed in the landscape. They not only provide food for monarch larvae but also for plenty of other pollinators (and oleander aphids). There is also the common milkweed, which some of us may remember from our childhood. It tolerates a wider range of conditions, but it is rhizomatous, meaning it sends out sprouting roots. Because of this, some communities have banned it, including Columbus (this may have recently changed).
If you want milkweeds contact me or another specialty nursery in your area that sells native plants. We don't use labels meant to confuse or mislead people! You may also find even more species of milkweed available. The three I mentioned are the most common in the wild. Free milkweed seeds are easy to come by if you know where to look (google it).