Journal archives for February 2024

February 09, 2024

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 | 1 comment | Leave a comment

February 16, 2024

New webpage for Community Science!

Hi Everyone,

The Calgary Pollinator Project has exciting news! We now have a community science page on the University of Calgary Biodiversity site! This page will be where we post about upcoming events and new community science projects. Feel free to check out the pages below!

Community Science and Events
Calgary Pollinator Project

There is a new community science project at the U of C this year! My colleague, Tory, is starting up a new project: Rare Plants of Alberta. They are studying Green Comet Milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora) and Sticky Purple Geranium (Geranium viscosissimum). She will be hosting plant walks near Lethbridge this summer to learn more about these rare plants and their habitats. I encourage you to check out their project and join their events if you can!

I hope everyone has a wonderful Family Day long weekend!

Cheers,
Justine

bumble

Posted on February 16, 2024 11:35 PM by jdo77 jdo77 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 24, 2024

Pollinator of the Month: Mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

The mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) is a native butterfly that can be found throughout the northern hemisphere. They spend their winters hibernating in crevices as adults. To survive the winters they have thick sugar syrup in their veins, which does not freeze. During the winter they may occasionally and temporarily emerge from their hibernation during warm spells. They usually emerge before the snow has fully melted, and are often the first butterfly that can be observed in the spring. They are most abundant in Alberta during the spring months. During these months they feed on sap, rotting fruit, and nectar from flowers. Mourning cloaks may also enter a summer hibernation (aestivation) due to dry conditions.

They have a wingspan of about three inches, which make a clicking sound when they fly. Their upper side of their wings are dark maroon wings with a creamy yellow border. Inside this creamy yellow border there are spots of iridescent blue. The underside of the wings are black with a yellow margin to help the butterfly blend in with the bark of trees.

The eggs are whitish and laid in clusters of rings, though they turn darker closer to their hatching. These eggs are laid on branches of deciduous trees, such as willow, elm, hackberry, cottonwood, poplar, rose, birch, and mulberry trees. The caterpillars are covered in branched spines, small white dots, and large orange-red spots. They can become pests, causing damage to the plants that they eat. Their chrysalis’ are gray, with two rows of spines that have red tips.

The mourning cloak’s scientific name has mythical origins as it was based on the Greek figure Antiope, who was the leader of the Amazon.

a mourning cloak butterfly with their wings closed, hanging on a branch. They are pictured in a side view
a mourning cloak butterfly with their wings opened, resting on the ground. They are pictured from above

Posted on February 24, 2024 07:41 AM by kiarra13 kiarra13 | 0 comments | Leave a comment