Common Milkweed

name = Common Milkweed

image_width = 240px
regnum = Plantae
divisio = Magnoliophyta
classis = Magnoliopsida
ordo = Gentianales
familia = Apocynaceae
subfamilia = Asclepiadoideae
genus = "Asclepias"
species = "A. syriaca"
binomial = "Asclepias syriaca"
binomial_authority = L.

Common Milkweed (Butterfly flower, Silkweed, Silky Swallow-wort, Virginia Silkweed;"Asclepias syriaca") is a species of milkweed, native to most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains, with the exception of the drier parts of the Prairies. It grows in sandy soils and appreciates lots of sunlight. It was one of the earliest North American species described in Cornut's 1635 "Canadensium plantarum historia". The specific epithet was reused by Linnaeus due to Cornut's confusion with a species from Asia Minor.

Common milkweed is a herbaceous perennial plant growing from a rhizome to 1-2 m tall. The stem is very hairy, and all parts of the plants produce a white latex when broken. The leaves are opposite, simple broad ovate-lanceolate, 7-25 cm long and 3-12 cm broad, usually with an undulate margin and a red-colored main vein. They have a very short petiole and a velvety underside.

The flowers are grouped in several spherical umbels with numerous flowers in each umbel. The individual flowers are small, 1-2 cm diameter, perfumed, with five cornate hoods. The seeds are attached to long, white flossy hairs and encased in large follicles.


The plant's latex contains large quantities of glycosides, making the leaves and pod bark toxic for sheep, and potentially humans (though large quantities of the foul-tasting parts would need to be eaten). The young shoots, young leaves, flower buds and immature fruits are all edible, however it is important to make sure that they are thoroughly and completely cooked before eating them; otherwise they are still toxic. It is important not to confuse young shoots with those of the toxic Spreading Dogbane and Common Dogbane.

Failed attempts have been made to exploit rubber (from the latex) and fiber (from the seed's floss) production from the plant industrially. The floss was nonetheless used for stuffing. However, the plant has been explored for commercial use of its bast (inner bark) fiber which is both strong and soft. U.S. Department of Agriculture studies in the 1890s and 1940s found that Milkweed has more potential for commercial processing than any other indigenous bast fiber plant, with estimated yields as high as hemp and quality as good as flax. Both the bast fiber and the floss were used historically by Native Americans for cordage and textiles.

The flowers often constitute small traps for insects who cannot take off again. Several insects live off the plant, including the Monarch Butterfly ("Danaus plexippus"), the Milkweed Beetle ("Tetraopes tetraophtalmus"), Small Milkweed Bug ("Lygaeus kalmii") and Milkweed Leaf Beetle ("Labidomera clivicollis").

Deforestation due to European settlement may have expanded the range and density of milkweed. The plant can become invasive and often acts as a weed. It is naturalized in several areas outside of its native range, including Oregon and parts of Europe.



* [ Common Milkweed page] from the [ Natural Resources Conservation Service Plants Database]

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Milkweed Fibre — A seed hair fibre obtained from the common milkweed or silk weed plant Asclepias Incarnata, which grows extensively in America. The surface fibre from the seedpods is used for upholstery stuffing. It has been used in France for the manufacture of …   Dictionary of the English textile terms

  • milkweed family — the plant family Asclepiadaceae, characterized by herbaceous plants, shrubs, and vines having simple, opposite or whorled leaves, usually milky juice, umbellike clusters of small flowers, and long pods that split open to release tufted, airborne… …   Universalium

  • milkweed floss — ▪ seed fibre       seed fibre of Asclepias syriaca, or common milkweed, and A. incarnata, or butterfly weed, both of which are plants of the Asclepiadaceae family and grow in North America. The soft, buoyant, lustrous floss is yellowish white in… …   Universalium

  • milkweed beetle — any of several small red, black spotted elongated beetles of the genus Tetraopes, common in eastern North America, that inhabit the milkweed. [1835 45] * * * ▪ insect       (species Chrysochus cobaltinus), member of the insect subfamily… …   Universalium

  • milkweed beetle — any of several small red, black spotted elongated beetles of the genus Tetraopes, common in eastern North America, that inhabit the milkweed. [1835 45] …   Useful english dictionary

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  • milkweed — noun (U) a common North American plant that produces a bitter white substance when its stem is broken …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

  • List of plants by common name — The common names of plants often vary from region to region, which is why most plant encyclopedias refer to plants using their scientific names: binomials, or Latin names. Many plants have several common names, and many common names refer to… …   Wikipedia

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