15 July 2011

Milkweed Mania

Ever since my visit northward, I'm completely obsessed with milkweeds. There are so many species of these important plants native to the U.S. and they are really all very beautiful. Here in Central Texas, we see a lot of antelope horn (Asclepius asperula) and tropical milkweed (Asclepius curassavica), which is native to Mexico.

But there are many others that are common (or used to be common) in the state. Here are three of those that I photographed in Wisconsin at Riveredge Nature Center.

The common "weedy" milkweed, Asclepius syriaca.

This one is really beautiful and grows in large spreading clumps in ditches all over the place up there. Here it is also growing in a prairie restoration. Look at those beautiful pinkish pom-pom flowers. This milkweed exudes a great floral scent as well.

I'd like to plant some of the common milkweed real bad, but am afraid of its potential weediness. It's got a great upright form and beautiful flowers.

Here's the bright and bossy butterflyweed, Asclepius tuberosa.

It's really the star of a meadow or prairie garden and found very commonly in the nursery trade in the northern part of the country.

And here is swamp milkweed (Asclepius incarnata), which is just about to bloom. This one gets tall and likes to have its feet wet. It also looks a bit more like our tropical milkweed in form.

One of the greatest things about the milkweeds is that they support a large number of insects, despite the fact that they exude a milky, white sap that is toxic. There are many insects that have evolved to be able to handle those defenses, and in fact some, like the famous monarch butterfly, sequester the toxin in their bodies when they are leaf-munching larvae to protect from bird predators when they are adult butterflies. Almost all of the milkweed-associated species that I've seen are colored orange and black during some part of their life stage to ward away the predators.

If it's the right time of year, it just takes a bit of poking around the milkweed (especially common milkweed) to find a monarch larvae. Just look for the signs of munching or little black frass pellets collecting on leaves.

This particular caterpillar will probably become an adult in mid-August sometime. Though that generation may have time for one more generation up in the north, I waiger this is the generation of adults that will make the long migration back to Mexico in the fall. Maybe the butterfly that emerges from this particular larva will flit past The Grackle garden in October...

Here's a site with photos of the Texas milkweeds.


Nancy said...

They are a wonderfully useful plant as well as being beautiful. Thanks for sharing! You always have the most beautiful photos of things.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a great post! I've just identified the vibrant orange blooms in my backyard and love the information here!