Common Milkweed - Asclepias syriaca (Milkweed family - Asclepiadaceae)

 

Common Milkweed - Asclepias syriaca (Milkweed family - Asclepiadaceae) A stout, downy plant. The domed, often somewhat drooping flower clusters are mostly in leaf axils and vary in subtle shades of dusty rose, lavender and dull brownish purple. The pointed gray-green seedpods can be told from those of other milkweeds by their warty aspect. 3 - 5 ft. Roadsides, dry soil, fields. The dull purple flowers contain much nectar, and Native Americans sweetened wild strawberries with the dew from the blossoms. When bruised, the stems exudes a milky juice; hence the common name. The juice is sticky and served the early settlers as glue. The young shoots, unopened flower clusters and unripe seedpods were cooked and eaten.

 

 

 

The long silky hair on the seeds was used by early settlers to stuff pillows and mattresses, and in World War I, children were paid a penny a pound for the "silk," which was used to stuff life preservers. The genus was named in honor of Aesculapius, Greek god of medicine, undoubtedly because some species of milkweed have long been used to treat a variety of aliments.

The unusual structure of the flower regulates pollination. Sacs of pollen snag on insects' legs and are pulled from the stamens, and then must be precisely inserted into slits behind the crown. If inserted backwards, pollen grains germinate in the wrong direction and are wasted. This may explain why so few pods occur on most plants. Insects too small to pull free die trapped on the flower.

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