Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.of Northwest indiana

Asclepias exaltata - Howes Prairie INDU.jpg
Asclepias incarnata.jpg
Asclepias verticillata indiana dunes
Asclepias exaltata - Howes Prairie INDU.jpg
Asclepias incarnata.jpg
Asclepias viridiflora
Asclepias exaltata - Howes Prairie INDU.jpg
asclepias syriaca indiana dunes.jpg
Asclepias incarnata.jpg
Asclepias tuberosa Howes Prairie INDU.jpg

Milkweeds were in their own family until recently they were moved into the dogbane family (Apocynaceae).  When closely observed, milkweeds have one of the showiest little flowers with a hood and horns distinguishing it from many plants. Milkweeds have a really cool sexual feature called a gynostegium or column.  It is a reproductive structure that has their boy parts (stamens) and girl parts (stigma and style) fused together in the center of the flower.  This phenomenon is also seen in orchids.  There are ten different milkweed species that are native to the Indiana Dunes. 

 

If you would like to learn more about milkweeds and pollinators, check out The Xerces Society and Monarch Watch.

For more on milkweed flower morphology, click here

Pod of the Milkweed by Robert Frost

Calling all butterflies from every race

From source unknown but no special place

They ever will return to all their lives,

Because unlike the bees they have no hives

The milkweed brings up to my very door

The theme of wanton waste in peace and war

As it has never been to me before.

And so it seems a flower’s coming out

That should if not be talked then sung about.

The countless wings that from the infinite

Make such a noiseless tumult over it

Do no doubt with their color compensate

For what the drab weed lacks of the ornate.

For drab it is its fondest must admit.

And yes, although it is a flower that flows

With milk and honey, it is bitter milk,

As anyone who ever broke its stem

And dared to taste the wound a little knows.

It tastes as if it might be opiate.

But whatsoever else it may secrete,

Its flowers distilled honey is so sweet

It makes the butterflies intemperate.

There is no slumber in its juice for them

One knocks another off from where he clings.

They knock the dyestuff off each other’s wings—

With thirst on hunger to the point of lust.

They raise in their intemperance a cloud

Of mingled butterfly and flower dust

That hangs perceptibly above the scene.

In being sweet to these ephemerals

The sober weed has managed to contrive

In our three hundred days and sixty-five

One day too sweet for beings to survive.

Many shall come away as struggle-worn

And spent and dusted off of their regalia,

To which at daybreak they were freshly born,

As after one-of-them’s proverbial failure

From having beaten all day long in vain

Against the wrong side of a windowpane.

 

But waste was of the essence of the scheme.

And all the good they did for man or god

To all those flowers they passionately trod

Was leave as their posterity one pod

With an inheritance of restless dream.

He hangs on upside down with talon feet

In an inquisitive position odd

As any Guatemalan parakeet.

Something eludes him.

Is it food to eat?

Or some dim secret of the good of waste?

He almost has it in his talon clutch.

Where have those flowers and butterflies all gone

That science may have staked the future on?

He seems to say the reason why so much

Should come to nothing must be fairly faced.