Shilpa’s Wildflower Highlights » Common Milkweed
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is the most frequently encountered milkweed among 115 known species of the genus Asclepias. It’s a perennial herbaceous plant that can grow 4-6 feet tall. The name “milkweed” comes from the milk-like white secretion (sap) from every part of the plant when broken. It is native to the eastern and the midwestern United States excluding the most drier parts…
Shilpa is an ecologist and conservation expert. She recently moved to the U.S. after earning a Ph.D. in marine ecology in 2016, which thesis focused on mangrove crabs and their ecosystem functioning in mangrove conservation.
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❋ Common milkweeds are commonly seen in fields, open woods, waste areas, roadsides and along railroad tracks, forest edges, meadows and old fields. It can grow in sandy, clayey and even rocky calcareous soil. This species also hybridizes with showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)
❋ The stem is hairy, usually solitary. The leaves are opposite, broadly ovate to elliptical, sparsely hairy above and densely hairy below. The inflorescence is umbelliform (spherical clusters) with highly fragrant whitish (rarely), purplish or pinkish nectariferous flowers. They usually blooms from June to August.
❋ Common milkweeds play significant roles in ecosystem functioning. They attract many insect and pollinator species including the milkweed leaf beetle (Labidomera clivicollis), large milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus), red milkweed beetle (Tetraopes tetrophtalmus), milkweed aphid (Aphis nerii), monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus), bees and many more. Overall, 450 insect species use some parts of this plant as food.
❋ Monarch butterflies are specifically dependent on milkweeds. This is the only type of plant on which they lay their eggs and the larvae will feed and matures into a chrysalis. Eggs are laid on the underside of young, healthy milkweed leaves. Apparently, the glycosidic sap of milkweed act as chemical defense for the monarch butterfly larvae (caterpillar) making them distasteful for most of their predators. So, if you are thinking about creating a pollinator friendly garden, please use common milkweed for landscaping. You’ll help many pollinators along with monarch butterflies whose numbers are declining due to lack of appropriate habitat.
❋ Common Milkweed also has many other values in human life. (i) It has a history in wart removal and lung diseases, (ii) they supply tough fibers for making cords and ropes, and for weaving a coarse cloth, (iii) the easter and mid-western indigenous American groups used common milkweed in a variety of ways for e.g.-Chippewa made a cold decoction of common milkweed root and added it to food to produce postpartum milk flow; the Menominee ate the buds or a decoction of the root for chest discomfort; the Ojibwa used the root as a female remedy (!?); the Meskwaki used common milkweed as a contraceptive; the Iroquois took an infusion of milkweed leaves for stomach medicine and so on.
❋ Despite all these medicinal uses, Milkweed species as a group are known to contain cardiac glycosides that are poisonous to humans and livestock. So avoid taking milkweed without sufficient knowledge and preparation.
There’s so much information available on this plant. Please consider reading some.
July 11th 2018 | by Shilpa Sen
Disclaimer: I’m not a wildflower expert.. but being an environmental scientist (professionally) and a #naturalist (by heart), I am passionate about the natural world around me. I use this wildflower series to share my passion with my connections. (All the photographs are taken by me).
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