Common Milkweed

Common Name: Common Milkweed.

Scientific Name: Asclepias Syriaca.

What to look for?  The Common Milkweed is the plant that most people associate with the term “milkweed”. This is a tall and conspicuous plant. It has rhizomes and quickly forms colonies of stout, green stems. During the summer months, flowers are borne in nearly spherical clusters (umbels) at the top of the plant, usually with two to five clusters per plant. The flowers are pink to purplish large balls that give off an attractive, sweet odor. Follicles split open in the fall and early winter dispensing wind borne seeds. The upper surface of the leaves is light to dark green while the lower surface is lighter, almost white at times. Broken leaves and stems exude a milky latex.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? In spring, you can find the Common Milkweed’s green stems erupting around the upper banks along Carillon Stonegate Ponds and the fields adjacent to the woodlands. In summer, you can find the Common Milkweed’s pink to purplish flowers in full bloom!

How big are they? Common Milkweeds are approximately three to five feet tall. The leaves are six to eight inches long and two to four inches across. Each flower is about three-quarters of an inch long and less than one-half inch wide.

Where do they grow and thrive? Common Milkweeds are widespread from the eastern most prairie states to the eastern United States as well as southern Canada. It is frequently found in fence rows, on roadsides, in fields, and in prairies and pastures.

When do they bloom? The blooming period occurs from in the summer from June through August.

Do birds, insects or other wildlife associate with this plant? Common Milkweeds are among the most important food plants for monarch caterpillars as host plants during their larval stage. And it is the food market for over 450 insects that are known to feed on some portion of the plant. It is not at all uncommon to see flies, beetles, ants, bees, wasps, and butterflies attracted at the same time to the nectar-laden flowers of the Common Milkweed.

Interesting Facts About the Common Milkweed:

  • European settlers used milkweed down to fill pillows and mattresses.

  • 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!

  • The Common Milkweed is a caterpillar and larva host for the monarch butterfly, which lays creamy yellow eggs on the underside of leaves.

  • Milkweeds are named for the milk-white sap in their stems and leaves. This sap is acidic and somewhat poisonous to animals.

  • However, by feeding on milkweed leaves and ingesting the sap, monarch caterpillars and adults become distasteful to birds.

  • Hummingbirds often use the floss from milkweed pods to line their nests.

  • Milkweed floss has been used to mop up oil spills at sea.

For more information on the Common Milkweed and sources of information used in this blog (these are several of the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit Illinois Wildflowers, Morton Arboretum, Missouri Botanical Gardens, University of Texas Wildflower Center, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.

 

Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!