Definitions

poke milkweed

Asclepias

Asclepias L. (1753), the milkweeds, is a genus of herbaceous perennial, dicotyledonous plants that contains over 140 known species. It used to belong to the family Asclepiadaceae, but this is now classified as a subfamily Asclepiadoideae of the dogbane family Apocynaceae.

Milkweeds are an important nectar source for bees and other nectar seeking insects, and a larval food source for monarch butterflies and their relatives, as well as a variety of other herbivorous insects (including numerous beetles, moths, and true bugs) specialized to feed on the plants despite their chemical defenses. Milkweed is named for its milky juice, which contains alkaloids, latex, and several other complex compounds including cardenolides. Some species are known to be toxic.

Carolus Linnaeus named the genus after Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, because of the many folk-medicinal uses for the milkweed plants.

Pollination in this genus is accomplished in an unusual manner, as the pollen is grouped into complex structures called pollinia (or "pollen sacs"), rather than being individual grains, as is typical for plant pollen. The flower petals are smooth and rigid, and the feet of visiting insects (predominantly large wasps, such as spider wasps, which visit the plants for nectar) slip into notches in the flowers, where the sticky bases of the pollinia attach to the feet, pulling the pollen sacs free when the pollinator flies off. Bees, including honey bees only gather nectar from milkweed flowers, and are generally not effective pollinators despite the frequency of visitation.

Species in the Asclepias genus grow their seeds in pods. These seed pods contain soft filaments known as either silk or floss. The filaments are attached to individual seeds. When the seed pod ripens, the seeds are blown by the wind, each carried by several filaments.

Species

Some Asclepias species:
Asclepias acida Possibly used to create Soma.
Asclepias amplexicaulis Blunt-leaved milkweed
Asclepias asperula Antelope horns
Asclepias cordifolia Heart-leaf milkweed
Asclepias curassavica Scarlet milkweed, Bloodroot, Bastard Ipecacuanha
Asclepias exaltata Poke milkweed
Asclepias fascicularis Narrow leaf milkweed
Asclepias fruticosa
Asclepias humistrata Sandhill milkweed
Asclepias incarnata Swamp milkweed
Asclepias lanceolata Lanceolate milkweed
Asclepias linearis
Asclepias obovata
Asclepias physocarpa Gomphocarpus physocarpus, commonly balloonplant, balloon cotton-bush or swan plant
Asclepias purpurascens Purple milkweed
Asclepias quadrifolia Four-leaved milkweed
Asclepias rubra Red milkweed
Asclepias speciosa Showy milkweed
Asclepias subulata Rush milkweed(Leafless milkweed)
Asclepias sullivantii Sullivant's milkweed
Asclepias syriaca Common milkweed
Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly weed, Pleurisy root
Asclepias variegata White milkweed
Asclepias verticillata Whorled milkweed
Asclepias vincetoxicum

Uses

These milkweed filaments or floss are coated with wax, and have good insulation qualities. Tests have shown them to be superior to down feathers for insulation. During World War II, over 11 million pounds (5000 t) of milkweed floss were collected in the United States as a substitute for kapok.

In the past, the high dextrose content of the nectar led to milkweed's use as a source of sweetener for Native Americans and voyageurs.

The bast fibers of some species were also used for cordage.

Milkweed latex contains about 1 to 2% caoutchouc, and was attempted as a natural source for rubber by both Germany and the United States during World War II. No record has been found of large-scale success.

Milkweed is a common folk remedy used for removing warts. Milkweed sap is applied directly to the wart several times daily until the wart falls off. Dandelion sap is often used in the same manner.

Milkweed is beneficial to nearby plants, repelling some pests, especially wireworms.

Milkweed also contains cardiac glycoside poisons which inhibit animal cells from maintaining a proper K+, Ca+ concentration gradient. As a result many natives of South America and Africa used arrows poisoned with these glycosides to fight and hunt more effectively. Milkweed is toxic. Fatality is possible when animal consumes 1/10 its body weight in any part of the plant. Milkweed also causes mild dermatitis in some who come in contact with it.

Milkweed sap is also externally used as a natural remedy for Poison Ivy.

Being the sole food source of Monarch Butterfly larva, the plant is often used in Butterfly gardening.

See also

References

  • Everitt, J.H.; Lonard, R.L., Little, C.R. (2007). Weeds in South Texas and Northern Mexico. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press. ISBN 0-89672-614-2

External links

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