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Feb 2006 MILKWEED
N. Walker

There are approximately 200 milkweed species in the world. Milkweeds are a major source of nectar for butterflies, particularly the Monarch. Milkweed contains a cardenolide chemical that is ingested by the Monarch and makes the butterfly poisonous to would-be predators. The common name "milkweed" refers to a milky juice that most milkweed species have. If the stems are cut this whitish juice appears and is one of the ways to identify milkweed plants. Milkweed plants develop pods that when mature have silky hairs that provide a way for the seed to be distributed by wind. The pods were collected in World War 2 for use in life jackets. One species seen locally has doubled opposite leaves that are about 5 inches long. The doubled opposite leaves appear as 4 leaves growing from each stem node. Pink tinged white flowers grow in clusters. Another species of milkweed grows at the Huntsville Botanical Garden. It is taller, blooms later and the leaf pairs emerge from the stem at different places.