Stem. - Tall, stout, downy, with a milky juice. Leaves. - Generally opposite or whorled, the upper sometimes scattered, large, oblong, pale, minutely downy underneath. Flowers. - Dull, purplish-pink, clustered at the summit and along the sides of the stem. (These flowers are too difficult to be successfully analyzed by the non-botanist.) Calyx. - Five-parted, the divisions small and reflexed. Corolla. - Deeply five-parted, the divisions reflexed; above them a crown of five hooded nectaries, each containing an incurved horn. Stamens. - Five, inserted on the base of the corolla, united with each other and enclosing the pistils. Pistils. - Properly two, enclosed by the stamens, surmounted by a large five-angled disk. Fruit. - Two pods, one of which is large and full of silky-tufted seeds, the other often stunted.
This is probably the commonest representative of this striking and beautiful native family. The tall, stout stems, large, pale leaves, dull pink clustered flowers which appear in July, and later the puffy pods filled with the silky-tufted seeds beloved of imaginative children, are familiar to nearly everyone who spends a portion of the year in the country. The young sprouts are said to make an excellent pot-herb; the silky hairs of the seed-pods have been used for the stuffing of pillows and mattresses, and can be mixed with flax or wool and woven to advantage; while paper has been manufactured from the stout stalks.
The four-leaved milkweed, A. quadrifolia, is the most delicate member of the family, with fragrant rose-tinged flowers which appear on the dry wooded hill-sides quite early in June, and slender stems which are usually leafless below, and with one or two whorls and one or two pairs of oval, taper-pointed leaves above.
The swamp milkweed, A. incarnata, grows commonly in moist places. Its very leafy stems are two or three feet high, with narrowly oblong, pointed leaves. Its intense purple-pink flowers gleam from the wet meadows nearly all summer. They are smaller than those of the purple milkweed, A. purpurascens, which abounds in dry ground, and which may be classed among the deep pink or purple flowers according to the eye of the beholder.