For Your Garden - August 2014
Have you been meaning to add a few native plants to your garden? Native plants provide beauty as well as food and shelter for wildlife. Native species are adapted to the Illinois climate. They require little or no watering and are resistant to drought, insects and most diseases. Because they are perennials, you can welcome their presence year after year.
common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Photo © Illinois Department of Natural Resources
Common milkweed grows in fields, roadsides and prairie edges throughout Illinois. Flowering occurs from May through August. The flowers may be purple-brown, rose or purple-pink. Flowers are produced in a cluster at the stem tip and from the leaf axils of the upper leaves. Although there are many flowers in a cluster, usually only a few of them are pollinated. The pollinated flowers develop into large pods that contain seeds attached to silky plumes. Common milkweed pods are easily identified by the many projections on their surface. These plants may grow to nearly five feet tall. Their leaves are arranged oppositely on the stem. Each leaf may be up to eight inches long and 4.5 inches wide. The veins in the leaves usually have a pink tinge. The stem is generally not branched and is covered with small hairs. The sap of common milkweed is white. Monarch butterfly larvae are among the few organisms that are able to eat milkweed leaves. Many pollinators are attracted to the flowers, however.
Classification and taxonomy are based on Mohlenbrock, Robert H. 2014. Vascular flora of Illinois: A field guide. Fourth edition. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale. 536 pp.