Milkweed Facts

Milkweed Facts
Milkweed is herbaceous plant that belongs to the dogbane family. There are more than 140 species of milkweed. Most species originate from North America. Milkweed grows in the fields, gardens, meadows and areas near the roads. It often grows in colonies and easily occupies new areas. Milkweed is classified as weed in most countries and people use various herbicides to eradicate it. In some parts of the world, people cultivate milkweed to attract insects (especially butterflies and honeybees) into their gardens.
Interesting Milkweed Facts:
Milkweed has simple, erect stem that can reach 1.5 to 6 feet in height.
Milkweed has thick, long rhizome that stores nutrients and produces new sprouts. It sometimes produces several separate stems that are located on a short distance one from another.
Milkweed has large, broad, oval leaves with red veins. Leaves are smooth on the upper side and hairy below. They are oppositely arranged on the stem.
Milkweed produces purple or pink flowers arranged in drooping clusters. Milkweed blooms from June to August and produces large quantities of nectar which attracts butterflies, moths and bees, responsible for the pollination of this plant.
Fruit of milkweed are brown pods. Ripe pods split to release fluffy seed.
Seed are equipped with hairy filaments which facilitate dispersal by wind. During the windy days, seed often travel 25 to 100 feet away from the mother plant.
Besides via seed, milkweed propagates via division of rhizome.
Entire plant is filled with milky sap, hence the name - milkweed. Sap contains latex, alkaloids and cardiac glycosides. Some species of milkweed produce toxic chemicals to protect themselves against hungry herbivores.
Caterpillars of monarch butterfly eat leaves of milkweed and collect toxins in the body. Toxins remain in the body after transformation of caterpillars into the butterflies and provide protection from birds and other predators.
Some species of milkweed can be used in human diet, but they need to be properly cooked. Shoots, leaves, pods and buds need to be boiled at least three times before consumption.
Yellow jacket is predatory wasp that feeds on insects that regularly visit milkweed. It waits for the bees and flies to enter the flowers and then grabs them.
Fluffy seed of milkweed were used as stuffing for the floatation devices in the USA during the WWII. Seed of milkweed are still popular in the industry of pillows and life jackets.
Native Americans used nectar isolated from the flowers of milkweed as sweetener. They used fibers from the stem of milkweed in the manufacture of ropes and twines.
Fibers extracted from the milkweed can be used in the manufacture of paper, while milky sap can be used in the manufacture of rubber.
Milkweed can survive from 2 to 25 years in the wild, depending on the species and environmental conditions.

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