A Part and Its Whole

A single flower of the longleaf milkweed (Asclepias longifolia)

One of the less obvious delights of spring is the variety of milkweeds hidden away in grasslands and prairies. During a recent visit to my favorite nameless hayfield, I found green milkweed (A. viridis), slim milkweed (A. linearis), and an explosion of longleaf milkweeds, which look for all the world like vegetative fireworks.

Although quite different in structure from a daisy or rose, milkweed flowers provide a rich source of nectar and pollen for a variety of insects, especially native bees. For humans, they provide an unending source of visual delight.

The single flower shown above, in its larger context


Comments always are welcome.


46 thoughts on “A Part and Its Whole

    1. I found exactly two of these plants last year, and they weren’t nearly so colorful. This year, they’re everywhere, and bright. They’re said to enjoy a damp environment, so this year’s spring rains — and even Hurricane Harvey — may have encouraged them.

    1. Can you believe that some of our milkweed already are putting on fluff? Unfortunately, these will be mowed down before they get a chance to form seeds, since the fellow who either owns or manages the hayfield (I’m not sure which, although I met him) is getting ready for a first cutting. I’m so glad that I decided to make a trip down, and saw these before they disappeared.

  1. There I was thinking the Texas prairies are barren of life, except for cowboys on horseback chasing baddies. See what those cowboy movies did to my perception. Glad you rectified that, Linda.

    1. I’m going to have to do a post just for you, Gerard, to show you what’s blooming on the prairies right now. There’s a lot of desert, scrub land, and high plains in those old films, but a prairie’s a very different thing. Your new horse would fit right in, and be happy.

  2. I read that milkweed is especially beneficial for Monarch butterflies, Linda. I think it’s the “weed” in its name that keeps most folks away from planting it. An unfortunate name, I suspect, for quite a lovely wildflower.

    1. You’re right about milkweed’s value to butterflies — and not only the monarchs. Bumblebees, honeybees, and several other native bees love it, too, as well as other sorts of insects. Butterfly gardens are becoming quite the thing down here, and milkweeds are one thing that people plant.

      Here’s an interesting site from your part of the world. It mentions three entirely different milkweeds than I found — the swamp milkweed is especially pretty. There are lots of groups giving away milkweed seeds — you could grow some yourself, and save a butterfly!

      1. How cool! Thanks, Linda. Of course I’d have to keep Dallas away from it, but that wouldn’t be insurmountable. And gee, look how pretty they are!!

        1. Well, here’s a caution. Since Dixie Rose was an indoor cat, I didn’t think too much about what she might get into outdoors, but I found this article about milkweed poisoning in dogs. I know a lot of people who have dogs, and who grow milkweed, and I never have heard of an issue, but it’s something to think about, especially if Dallas is a plant-eater.

    1. So many plants do have weed in their name. It’s unfortunate, because many of them are quite beautiful and useful. As a matter of fact, during WWII, milkweed floss was used in flotation devices, and helped to save a good many aviators and sailors. Here’s just one article you might enjoy.

    1. It seemed as though both photos were needed, Pete. Originally I was going to post only the macro, but I realized that some people wouldn’t have a clue that it came from an umbel — and a very pretty one, at that. I’m glad you found the combination of photos effective; thanks for letting me know.

    1. Believe me, Kayti — I’m grateful for every opportunity I have to get out and about. Even though I’m constrained financially from doing some of the travel I’d like to do, there never is a day I roam the neighborhood that I don’t find something of value.

      I’ve always enjoyed these words from Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz: “I spent the summer traveling; I got halfway across my back yard.” Your back yard may differ from mine in certain respects, but we’re still traveling, and that’s what counts.

        1. Isn’t it? I’ve never been a gardener, but I’m beginning to appreciate how even a small garden can provide some of the same joys as a jaunt to a hayfield or prairie. Even along the rock wall bordering the parking area for my apartment, there are lizards of various sorts, bees, birds, ants, spiders, and the occasional squirrel. Sometimes there are coyotes, but they seem to have made off with all the stray cats for now, so I don’t see them so often.

    1. Until you said that, synchronized swimming hadn’t crossed my mind. As soon as you said it, the resemblance was obvious. Here’s an oddity: when I checked to see if it had become an Olympic sport (it has) I found that the categories are duet, team, and solo. I’m still trying to figure out what solo swimmers would be synchronizing with.

      1. Isn’t it fun to discover someone on the other side of the globe had the same responses to an image? It’s as much fun as reading of the different responses people have. Every photo’s a bit like a Rorschach image.

          1. And not only to the other side of the world, but to a woman who lives only a few blocks away. We met through our blogs, and now share an occasional coffee. You’re welcome to join us any time!

    1. Thank you! I do love being able to isolate individual parts of a plant (or whatever) and highlight their details. It’s a brand new way of seeing the world.

    1. Aren’t those eyes fun? They make the flower look like a little sea creature of some sort — the kind that might show up as a supporting character in Finding Nemo. I can almost see it flowing through the water.

    1. Thanks, Tom. I grew up knowing milkweed only as those brown, fluff-filled pods common to Iowa ditches. I’d never seen a milkweed in flower until a few years ago. Now, I’ve found seven species, and every one is beautiful. I really enjoyed this article from the Xerces Society. I’m sure you know most of the information, but it’s well written and an enjoyable read.

    1. I’ve never seen a pearl milkweed other than in a photo,, but as soon as I saw one, I wanted a pair of earrings modeled on that flower. Now, looking at this macro photo, I can see the longleaf milkweed flower as the model for some drop earrings. I’m really surprised no one seems to have done that — too bad I don’t have the skills.

    1. It’s become one of my favorites. Because the flower heads often are only two or three inches across, they can become hidden as the surrounding grasses grow. I’ve learned that if I stumble across one, there usually are a few more somewhere in the area.

    1. There’s a bit of a color range. The flowers often are described as being green and white, but tinged with purple. Some are this darker purple, and I’m not sure if the deeper color is a result of aging, or if it’s a natural variation. In any event, they’re all lovely.

    1. One thing I didn’t know about milkweeds is that they’re as sneaky as they are beautiful; they can trap insects that are visiting for pollen or nectar. There are dramas going on out there! I’m going to have to take a better look at the structure of the individual flowers. Have you ever seen insects trapped by yours?

      1. No, but I have had zero luck in growing any native milkweed. ( I know, right?!) Are the milkweed carnivorous? I’ve never read that, but maybe??

        1. As I understand it, they just trap insects because of their structure. It’s purely accidental. It probably doesn’t help the plant at all, since it puts a kink in the pollination process.

          The people I know who grow milkweed say it’s difficult. I know they say to start from seed, rather than digging up plants, and only grow milkweeds native to your area. Our NPSOT chapter had a plant sale recently, and the baby milkweeds went in a flash.

    1. I had no idea how many milkweeds there are until the past year or so. Just in Texas, the number varies according to the source, but there certainly are more than thirty species. In the U.S., there are over 140. There seems to be more and more interest in our area in planting native milkweeds; it’s a good trend, and I hope it continues. It helps the butterflies, and certainly enhances our gardens.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.