Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Swamp Milkweed Seedpods

If you've been to any wet meadow lately, you have probably seen the seed pods form on swamp milkweed, or Asclepias syriaca. I've seen them on sites as far north as Dutchess County and as far east as Amagansett.

Even if you haven't noticed the seed pods before, you've probably seen milkweed growing wild. The plant is called milkweed because the thick stems, when broken, have a milky sap. The plant is also a big-time butterfly plant. Butterflies love Asclepias syriaca, as well as its cousins, Asclepias tuberosa and incarnata.

But personally, this is the time of year I think milkweed is at its most provocative. The oversized seed pods look alien to me, particularly given the rubbery spurs on the pods themselves.

The pods below are just beginning to open, and as you can see, they are being feasted on by a juvenile form of the small milkweed bug (Lygaeus kalmii). The bugs don't necessarily hurt the plant, but if you are looking to harvest the seeds and sow them, you best remove the bugs.

Below a dried seed pod has gently slipped away, revealing the seeds and the long, incredibly silky fibers that make them airborne. It's another great example of evolutionary engineering, no? I mentioned before how it still amazes me that the samaras on maples look like insect wings. The fact that the seeds are flattened like the scales of a fish inspires the same awe.

Here some morning dew weighed down the seeds, but I am sure that as the day warmed up, they were able to catch a breeze and settle down someplace new.

Asclepias is named for the Greek god of healing, Asklepios. Syriacus refers to Syria, which is a bit odd, since this plant is native to North America. I suppose it could be growing in the greater region of Syria, too, though I can't seem to find any information indicating this at the moment.

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