As we get ready for Winging It Day on August 3 in Aurora, we’re exploring the wonderful world of butterflies. You may know that milkweed is the host plant for monarchs. Many people grow it for its beautiful summer flowers. Here are some fun facts about one of our favorite Midwestern plants:
There are more than 75 species of milkweed native to North America. The Growing Place carries seven kinds!
European settlers used milkweed down to fill pillows and mattresses.
The botanic name of common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, comes from Asclepius, the Greek hero of the medical arts. Syriaca means ‘of Syria’ a mistake made by Linneas when naming the plant in 1753. The species is native to North America, but he observed a crop experiment in Syria.
Milkweeds are named for the milk-white sap in their stems and leaves. This sap contains sugar, gum, fat and other compounds that are acidic and somewhat poisonous to animals.
By feeding on milkweed leaves and ingesting the sap, monarch caterpillars and adults become distasteful to birds.
The sap in milkweed keeps ants and other crawling insects from stealing its nectar. When an ant creeps up the milkweed stem, tiny spikes in its feet pierce the stem and release the sticky sap. The ant becomes tangled and when it stops to clean off the sap, becomes permanently stuck or falls off.
During World War II, milkweed was used to stuff life jackets once the regular material ran low. It is about six times more buoyant than cork!
Hummingbirds often use the floss from milkweed pods to line their nests.
The strong, sweet fragrance of milkweed attracts a wide variety of bees, butterflies and moths.
Milkweed seeds are dispersed by wind and sprout freely.
The roots of butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, have a long history of being used by Native Americans as a medicinal herb to treat chest complaints and a variety of other illnesses.
Milkweed floss has been used to mop up oil spills at sea.
Posted on 7/22/2013 at 8:30:00 PM