Milkweed in bloom

Photo by Mike Kay

Many species of milkweed are now in bloom throughout the county. The more common milkweeds found in our area include the common milkweed (Asclepius syriaca) and swamp milkweed (Asclepius incarnate). The common milkweed has wide, flattened leaves while the swamp variety has longer lancelet leaves. Both varieties are perennial herbaceous plants that flower in mid summer and produce greenish seed ponds containing flattened seeds with silky hairs that can be dispersed long distances through the air. Milkweeds are so named because of the milky white sap that oozes from wounds to the plant. This sap has various alkaloids and latex which is mildly poisonous. The immature larvae of the Monarch butterfly feeds on milkweed plants and is able to concentrate these chemicals in their body which makes them distasteful to predators. The name, “Asclepius” is taken from the Greek god of healing since milkweeds have been used in many folk remedies.The bloom of the milkweed is very fragrant and contains a lot of nectar, attracting a lot of butterflies and hummingbirds when in bloom, now being cultivated for native butterfly gardens and meadows. This plant has other uses as well. It has very strong fibers and was used for rope and textiles in the 1800’s. The seed oil of the milkweed plant contains a chemical that is a very effective blocker of the sun’s rays and it is used in the production of sunscreen.

Article by FCFCDB member

Nature Note for 6/18/2017