Saturday, June 7, 2014

Common Milkweed, Another Asclepias

Last weekend, we spotted three of North Carolina's native milkweeds, including the rather uncommon purple milkweed, Asclepias purpurascens. As luck would have it, this week brought us together with a fourth, common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca.

Common milkweed is an impressive plant, bearing multiple fairly compact globular clusters of blossoms, although the clusters tend to droop a bit under their own weight.

Common milkweed thrives in sunny locales such as old fields and roadsides, and this colony was growing in an un-mowed area near the entrance to a church cemetery in rural Chatham County.

The leaves, stems and blossoms of most milkweed species in North Carolina release a sticky, milky-white substance when injured or broken, hence the common name for them all. This substance is a type of latex, and is believed to function primarily as a defense against herbivores. 

The generic name for all our native milkweed species is Asclepias, borrowed by Linnaeus from the mythical Greek hero or minor god, Asklepios, worshiped by the Greeks for his powers of healing and knowledge of medicine. 

Many milkweeds were favored in folk medicine for treating a variety of ills, hence the association with the mythical healer, Asklepios.

We'll keep our eyes peeled for our other native milkweed species as we continue our journey into June, and in the meantime, hopefully you'll recognize the four we've already encountered should you run into any of them along your way. 

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