Plant of the Month: Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) is a native plant to western North America that belongs to the Apocynaceae family. Its genus is named after the Greek god of medicine, Asklepios. The species name, speciosa, refers to the flowers' showy appearance.

Showy milkweed grows 1.5 to 5 feet tall on an erect stem that has opposite leaves growing along it. The leaves are blue-green to gray-green in colour, are 4 - 7 inches long , oval, and covered in velvety hairs. The flowers form loose spherical clusters at the top of the stems. The flowers have a star-like or crown-like appearance that are purple-pinkish in colour. However, the flowers turn yellow as they age. They produce reddish-brown silky-tailed seeds that spread via the wind. They exude a milky latex sap from their stems and leaves if they are cut.

Showy milkweed is somewhat weedy in appearance which might discourage some from planting it, but is less prone to spreading and more manageable than common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). It can hybridize with common milkweed, creating intermediate forms. Showy milkweed is a good choice for a native plant garden, as it attracts wildlife and provides coluor and texture. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil, and is drought-tolerant and deer-resistant.

Showy milkweed is an important food source for many insects, especially for the monarch butterfly as milkweed is their host plant. Other insects that have been observed visiting this plant within Calgary include bumble bees, European honey bees, and ants.

Showy milkweed is also useful for humans in various ways as showy milkweed is considered one of the least toxic milkweed species. The plant can be used as a cleansing and healing agent, specifically helping with warts, cuts, ringworm, colds, and swelling. The young and immature parts of the plant can be eaten as a vegetable and the sap has been used to make a gum. The tough fibers of the plant have been used to make fabric, textiles, rope, and many other items.

a clump of light pink star-shaped showy milkweed flowers surrounded by large green leaves with an orange central vein

Posted on February 09, 2024 09:03 PM by kiarra13 kiarra13

Comments

I planted some Showy Milkweed seeds last fall and have my fingers crossed that at least some will sprout this spring. Would love to have them in my sunny frontyard garden in SW Calgary, because I need deer-resistant plants and want pollinator-friendly plants. Fingers crossed! I think they'll make a nice contrast mixed in with pink coneflowers.

Posted by mrsgeok 4 months ago

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