Milkweed

MILK’WEED, a widely distributed family of stout-stemmed plants, commonly known through their milky juices, curious little flowers and pods of silky seed tufts. Numerous species are found throughout America, the most beautiful being the brilliant butterfly weed.

Best known of all, however, is the common milkweed, which flowers from June to September along roadsides, in fields and on waste places, from New Brunswick westward, and southward to North Carolina and Kansas.

The stems grow about four feet high, bearing large, short-stemmed, hairy leaves of pale-green hue. Numerous purplish flowers grow in clusters at the tip of the stalk.

These blossoms lure insects by their sweet odor, and are so wonderfully constructed that before the nectar-store is reached, the visitor’s feet become entangled in a pollen mass.

Some insects cannot break away, so perish, but others fly off with two bundles of pollen, strapped together like saddle-bags, securely attached to their legs. In this way cross-fertilization (which see) is insured.

In the autumn large rough-coated seed pods take the place of flower clusters. When those pods burst open clouds of silky tufts bearing flat brown seeds float on the breezes and come to earth far away from the parent plants.

New plants also grow from the creeping roots, so the milkweed becomes a troublesome weed. Cultivation and heavy cropping are the best means of removing this weed when it becomes a pest.