Fall Wildflowers of New England
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Common Milkweed
Asclepias syricacia
General Description:

Named for its milky sap, Milkweed is a moderately tall plant, averaging approximately 2-6 in height. The broad leaves and thick stem of this wildflower are very robust and are covered with a thin, light-gray down. The plant is light green with purplish-pink flowers arranged in a rounded cluster. When not in bloom, Milkweed is most easily identified by its distinctive, pod-like fruit arranged laterally around the terminal shoot. These large fruits are light green and contain numerous densely packed, bearded seeds

Flowers:

Milkweed flowers are approximately in width and are arranged in dense rounded clusters at the terminal shoot. Each flower consists of 5 purplish-pink reflexed petals and a white central crown surrounded by purplish-pink, white-edged, fleshy hoods. Milkweed is in flower from June through August.

Fruit:

This fruit, also known as a follicle, is light green and has roughly textured skin. The fruit is rounded near the stem and tapers into a point at the tip. Inside the dry fruit are numerous seeds arranged in an overlapping pattern. Each seed is unilaterally bearded with a long tuft of silky-white hair. When mature, the milkweed fruit turns brown and bursts, releasing the bearded seeds.

Leaves:

The large leaves of the milkweed are light green and broadly ovate. Oftentimes, the prominent mid-vein is deep red. The underside of each leaf is covered in a heavy, light-gray down. The leaves are many and are oppositely arranged positioned upward around the stem forming a V.

Habitat:

Milkweed grows in old fields, along roadsides, and around waste areas.

Fun Facts:

Milkweed is a medicinal plant. Its milky sap contains cardiac glycosides that may be used to treat a variety of heart diseases.

The Monarch butterfly is dependent on Milkweed for nutrition and propagation. Milkweed sap is the sole food source of the Monarch butterfly larvae. When Monarch larvae, along with other caterpillars and beetles, ingest the sap, the cardiac glycosides give their blood a toxic character that protects it against predators.

Though Milkweed is effectively disseminated by its hairy seeds, it can also spread via rhizomatic activity. This method of growth can result in vast underground root networks.

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