- The surprisingly named Milkweed derives its name from the presence of naturally occurring latex and alkaloids in its white colored sap.
- It also serves a vital ecological function, as well. This plant serves as one of the few sources of food for the larvae of several species of butterfly, including the monarch butterfly.
- In fact, this unique plant has numerous uses. Dried Milkweed often gets used as a filling for hypoallergenic pillows.
- Due to its rather extreme absorption capabilities, the fibers of this species also often serve to clean up oil spills.
- Each variety also forms an important source of nectar for endemic species of bees, wasps, and a variety of insects which feed on nectar.
- However, a few species seem to be quite toxic.
Milkweed Physical Description
Since the Milkweed genus contains roughly 140 known species, physical characteristics differ widely in many ways. yet, some similarities do exist.
All forms of this rather remarkable genus produce some of the most complex flowers in the kingdom of plants. These even compare with orchids in complexity, if not beauty.
The blooms open up to reveal the incredibly fluffy interior. This actually aids in pollination.
Understandably, however, sizes and colors vary widely between the varying species.
Milkweed Distribution, Habitat, and Ecology
Milkweed forms the name of a genus of unique plants endemic to North America. There is a total of 140 recognized species in the genus. All evolved as endemic to either the continental United States or northern Mexico.
All known species of this genus develop as both herbaceous and perennial in nature. The various species grow to a wide range of sizes.
Milkweed utilizes a unique method of pollination, which often actually proves fatal to non-native bee species. The pollen groups into pollinia and then held within five slits in the flower.
Native bee varieties grow large enough to escape these slits. Smaller, non-native species often become trapped within the Milkweed and perish.