(Asclepias tuberosa) Milkweed family

Flowers - Bright reddish orange, in many-flowered, terminal

clusters, each flower similar in structure to the common milkweed

(q.v.). Stem: Erect, 1 to 2 ft. tall, hairy, leafy, milky juice

scanty. Leaves: Usually all alternate, lance-shaped, seated on

stem. Fruit: A pair of erect, hoary pods, 2 to 5 in. long, at

least containing silky plumed seeds.

Preferred Habitat - Dry or sandy fields, hills, roadsides.

Flowering Season - June-September.

Distribution - Maine and Ontario to Arizona, south to the Gulf of


Intensely brilliant clusters of this the most ornamental of all

native milkweeds set dry fields ablaze with color. Above them

butterflies hover, float, alight, sip, and sail away - the great,

dark, velvety, pipe-vine swallow-tail (Papilio philenor), its

green-shaded hind wings marked with little white half moons; the

yellow and brown, common, Eastern swallow-tail (P. asterias),

that we saw about the wild parsnip and other members of the

carrot family the exquisite, large, spice-bush swallow-tail,

whose bugaboo caterpillar startled us when we unrolled a leaf of

its favorite food supply (see spice-bush); the small, common,

white, cabbage butterfly (Pieris protodice); the even more common

little sulphur butterflies, inseparable from clover fields and

mud puddles; the painted lady that follows thistles around the

globe; the regal fritillary (Argynnis idalia), its black and

fulvous wings marked with silver crescents, a gorgeous creature

developed from the black and orange caterpillar that prowls at

night among violet plants; the great spangled fritillary of

similar habit; the bright fulvous and black pearl crescent

butterfly (Phyciodes tharos), its small wings usually seen

hovering about the asters; the little grayish-brown, coral

hair-streak (Thecla titus), and the bronze copper (Chrysophanus

thoe), whose caterpillar feeds on sorrel (Rumex); the delicate,

tailed blue butterfly (Lycaena comyntas), with a wing expansion

of only an inch from tip to tip; all these visitors duplicated

again and again - these and several others that either escaped

the net before they were named, or could not be run down, were

seen one bright midsummer day along a Long Island roadside

bordered with butterfly weed. Most abundant of all was still

another species, the splendid monarch (Anosia plexippus), the

most familiar representative of the tribe of milkweed butterflies

(see common milkweed). Swarms of this enormously prolific species

are believed to migrate to the Gulf States, and beyond at the

approach of cold weather, as regularly as the birds, traveling in

numbers so vast that the naked trees on which they pause to rest

appear to be still decked with autumnal foliage. This milkweed

butterfly "is a great migrant," says Dr. Holland, "and within

quite recent years, with Yankee instinct, has crossed the

Pacific, probably on merchant vessels, the chrysalids being

possibly concealed in bales of hay, and has found lodgment in

Australia where it has greatly multiplied in the warmer parts of

the Island Continent, and has thence spread northward and

westward, until in its migrations it has reached Java and

Sumatra, and long ago took possession of the Philippines.... It

has established a more or less precarious foothold for itself in

southern England. It is well established at the Cape Verde

Islands, and in a short time we may expect to hear of it as

having taken possession of the Continent of Africa, in which the

family of plants upon which the caterpillars feed is well


Surely here is a butterfly flower if ever there was one, and such

are rare. Very few are adapted to tongues so long and slender

that the bumblebee cannot help himself to their nectar; but one

almost never sees him about the butterfly-weed. While other bees,

a few wasps, and even the ruby-throated hummingbird, which ever

delights in flowers with a suspicion of red about them, sometimes

visit these bright clusters, it is to the ever-present butterfly

that their marvelous structure is manifestly adapted. Only

visitors long of limb can easily remove the pollinia, which are

usually found dangling from the hairs of their legs. We may be

sure that after generously feeding its guests, the flower does

not allow many to depart without rendering an equivalent service.

The method of compelling visitors to withdraw pollen-masses from

one blossom and deposit them in another - an amazing process -

has been already described under the common milkweed. Lacking the

quantity of sticky milky juice which protects that plant from

crawling pilferers, the butterfly-weed suffers outrageous

robberies from black ants. The hairs on its stem, not sufficient

to form a stockade against them, serve only as a screen to

reflect light lest too much may penetrate to the interior juices.

We learned, in studying the prickly pear cactus, how necessary it

is for plants living in dry soil to guard against the escape of

their precious moisture.

Transplanted from Nature's garden into our own, into what Thoreau

termed "that meager assemblage of curiosities, that poor apology

for Nature and Art which I call my front yard," clumps of

butterfly-weed give the place real splendor and interest. It is

said the Indians used the tuberous root of this plant for various

maladies, although they could scarcely have known that because of

the alleged healing properties of the genus Linnaeus dedicated it

to Aesculapius, of whose name Asclepias is a Latinized


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