The tall, splendid milkweed plant along the weedy road is one of the most remarkable plants to be found at any season. It is ex-tremely complicated in its flower mechanism, bears a milky juice which is akin to caoutchouc (the sap of the rubber tree), has silk-tufted seeds whose fluffs have been used instead of kapok, is edible as a young plant but poisonous to cuttle when the plants mature.
Asclepias syriaca L.
July - August. Damp places, roadsides.
'The milkweed stalk grows early in spring from a deep, perennial tap root. The young shoots are soft and downy, full of that typical milky juice which flows from any cut on the plant. In June there appear tight clusters of angled, round buds arranged in a mosaic so thai each hu<l gets sunshine. They burst, and now there is a wonderful globe of perfumed, intricate blossoms. The flower is composed of five nectar horns with a keyhole-like niche between, and five recurved sepals. When a fly or bee comes for nectar, it cannot get a foothold on the lightly poised flower, so almost, invariably its foot slips into the niche between the honey horns. This holds the insect firmly while it sips nectar and at the same time, in its struggles to free itself, scrapes off pollen sacs obtained from a flower previously visited. Usually the insect is able to free itself by pulling its foot upward and out. and flies off' with new pollinia to carry to the next flower. Often, though, the insect is trapped and hangs there dead.
Although there are dozens of flowers in the cluster, only two or three are properly pollinated and these form the large downy pods lull of silk-plumed seeds. The pods open in autumn, and the silk-parachuted seeds float off to other places to plant more milkweed for the coining year.