Common name: Showy milkweed
Asclepias speciosa, an herbaceous perennial in the dogbane family (Apocynaceae), is native to western and central North America. It can be found in damp grasslands, by roadsides, along streams, and on the edges of forests. A. speciosa is the least toxic of the milkweeds and can be eaten with care.
A. speciosa can grow to a height of about 90 centimetres (36 inches). It has light pink umbels (clusters) of small, fragrant, star-shaped flowers which appear at the tops of thick, upright stems, and in the leaf axils. These flowers, which remind people of crowns, bloom from summer into fall. The flowers give way to furry-looking 8 centimetres (3 inches) seedpods which start out green, and then turn brown, splitting open to release flat, brown seeds each with a tuft of silky hairs. The seeds are dispersed by wind. Showy milkweed is a source of nectar and a host plant for the Monarch butterfly. The butterfly lays its eggs on the velvety grey-green leaves. As the eggs hatch, the leaves become the food for the larvae (caterpillars). Milkweed plants are vital to the Monarch butterfly's survival. The Monarch butterfly population has dropped drastically in the last twenty years.
The stems of showy milkweed have long fibres which can be used to make twine, cords, ropes, and even coarse cloth. A. speciosa spreads by underground rhizomes. It is also easily propagated by seeds. The plant can adapt to a wide range of soil conditions as long as the area in which it is growing has good drainage and there is plenty of sun.
The genus name for this plant honours Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing. The specific epithet means 'showy' referring to the flowers. The common name milkweed was given in reference to the milky sap which is released when the leaves or stems are cut or bruised.
A. speciosa was used as a medicinal plant by First Nations people.
Asclepias speciosa can be seen in Bed 24B by Livingstone Lake.The photos were taken in August of 2023.
Text by Kumi Sutcliffe
Flower photo by Vicki Watkins from USA, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.