Asclepias syriacaor

Asclepias syriacaor

Asclepias syriaca

European columbines are close cousins of American columbines, but they are not the same, and definitely not related. No portion of Asclepias syriaca has been shared, but the colorless fluid they excrete has been used in traditional medicine.The plant contains cardiac glycosides, allied to digitalins used in treating some heart disease. These glycosides, when absorbed by monarch butterfly larvae whose sole source of food is milkweed foliage, make the larvae and adult butterflies toxic to birds and other predators.Use Food: According to the Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants or Edible Wild Plants, common milkweed is edible only under certain circumstances. Boiling can eliminate the bitter taste and toxicity of the sap, but this must be done very carefully to avoid the toxins. Eating milkweed is not recommended.Use Other: Native Americans used this species as a source of fibers and during the Second World War children in the northern states were encouraged to collect the seed pods that were processed for the coma, or floss, which was used for flotation in life vests. Today the coma is harvested for use in pillows and comforters.


Personally, I let this plant grow where it wants in my low-maintenance forest floor garden in NE Minneapolis. It is an attractive plant (in my opinion) and easy enough to pull when young if it's popping up somewhere it's not welcome. I don't find it too invasive. I encourage people to let at least a few plants grow in their yards so the monarch butterflies have a place to lay their eggs. It's such a delight when you notice a little yellow-striped caterpillar has taken up residence on your milkweed plant! Up North at my cabin they started mowing the ditches along the roadsides and completely eradicated the milkweed that grew in those limited sunny areas. I've since noticed I see far less monarchs up there around the lake, when they used to be plentiful.

The common milkweed is also well known for its showy flowers, attracting a host of pollinators, from monarch butterflies to honey bees to ruby-throated hummingbirds. Milkweed requires cross-pollination to produce fertile seeds. Other animals, such as yellow jackets, frequent milkweeds to predate on pollinators or on smaller insects trapped in the flowers. The flowers are faded pink to reddish purple, and grow in tightly-packed clusters emerging from the axils of the upper leaves of the stem. The blooming period lasts for 1-1½ months in mid- to late-summer, after which milkweed plants begin to produce their seed pods. Once the large pods mature, they split open along one side, releasing many fluffy seeds to be borne away by the wind. During World War II, these light and springy seed hairs were actually used to replace other fibers, which were in short supply, as a filling material for life jackets. (Source:mlbs.virginia.edu)



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