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Asclepius Redux- Plant of the Week # 10

Updated: Jul 2

In a previous blog post on July 22, 2021, the milkweeds were highlighted. You can find the post here. These plants remain an important part of the ecosystem of the bluff prairies, offering pollen and nectar to many insects. Their population is steadily growing as the prairies are expanded, with four types typically found on the bluff prairies.

The first highlighted is the Green Milkweed (Asclepius viridiflora) shown here:

The light green flowers of green milkweed give it its name. Its species name, viridiflora, also means "green flowered". This is in contrast to some of the other milkweed types such as butterfly milkweed (A tuberosa), which has striking orange flowers and is the second highlighted that is found in bluff prairies:

Butterfly weed is easily seen as its bright orange flowers dot the prairies. They are a magnet for many pollinators. Unlike other milkweeds, the sap of butterfly weed is not milky but translucent. Like other milkweeds, it takes about 3-4 years for these plants to produce flowers.

The next milkweed is the well known common milkweed (A. syriaca). Its soft pink flowers, as shown in this picture, are highly attractive to numerous butterflies and other pollinators, including the Great Spangled Fritillary shown here:

Last is the less noticeable but frequently abundant whorled milkweed (A. verticillata), typically reaching a height of around 12 inches:

These plants are also well known for being the primary host plant of the monarch caterpillar as shown in this photo of the caterpillar on common milkweed taken recently on Lookout Savanna:

Monarch caterpillars exclusively feed on milkweeds, which are their "obligate host." The sap of these plants, containing cardiac glycosides, serves as protection for the caterpillar and butterfly against potential predators. Despite initial hopes, the sap was ultimately not viable as a source for biofuels or rubber after extensive research around the time of World War 2. But the downy "pappus," the silky filaments attached to seeds, were collected and utilized for filling pillows and lifejackets for soldiers at that time.

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