Sunday, July 4, 2010

Asclepias speciosa--Showy Milkweed

I love this milkweed with the big furry leaves and the pale flowers. There are many, and it seems like this is one of the hardest to start from seed. The seeds come up, and then they die off. I am going to have to try again.

Milkweeds and Monarch butterflies go together. The Monarchs lay their eggs on the leaves, then the caterpillars hatch and eat the foliage. The toxins in the plant are sequestered by the insects, making them lousy bird food. So bird predation is not much of a problem, but spiders and other animals will still eat them.

The toxins in the leaves have other useful purposes. Apparently you can use the milky juice to treat warts. Sounds easy, I wonder if it works.

Even though it is toxic, it was still used as food by the Indians. They ate the flowers and young plants, I guess before too much poison had accumulated. One of my favorite stories is about how they used the milky juice to make chewing gum, not sweet, but savory. They dried the juice a bit and added bear or salmon grease. Why does chewing gum have to be sweet, anyway? I think I will start a new business selling savory gum. Or maybe I won't.

In bloom now at the UC Botanical Garden. It is in an odd place, can you find it?

1 comment:

Jeffrey said...

I've listed 15 species of butterflies that visit Showy Milkweed flowers.