Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wednesday's Wildflower: Swamp Milkweed

After getting to know the beautiful and all important Common Milkweed, I thought we should spend some time focusing on one of its equally stunning and beneficial cousins.

Swamp Milkweed is in its full glory right now in middle Tennessee.

This is a denizen of low, wet areas: ditches, wet meadows, marshes and the edges of placid water ways.

Its crown of bright pink or rose-colored blooms shines like a soft, cheery flame over the grasses and other wetland plants.

Swamp Milkweed can be found across much of the United States, with the exception of the West Coast.

It can grow from 2-5 feet tall, and has narrow, lance-shaped leaves, unlike the large, rounded ones that adorn Common Milkweed.

It usually begins blooming sometime in June, and continues merrily until the fall.

It has the same unique flower structure of other milkweeds: 5 recurved petals surrounding an elevated crown.

The magenta-streaked blossoms are not only gorgeous, but fragrant - reminiscent of vanilla.

The seed pods are similar to other milkweeds, but are borne on erect stalks. 

The individual seeds have the same silky tufts that make them sail across the breeze in late Fall.

While the plant still exudes a milky, white sap when broken, it isn't as copius as Common Milkweed's, making it a bit less toxic.

Asclepias is the genus of this dignified plant family. Swamp Milkweed goes by Asclepias incarnata, the specific epithet meaning "flesh-colored."

Other names for it include Rose Milkweed, Silkplant, Water-Nerve Root, Red Milkweed, Marsh Milkweed, Rabbit Milk, Flesh-colored Silkweed and White Indian Hemp.

Much like Common Milkweed, Swamp Milkweed has food value - under the right circumstances, of course.

The young shoots can be harvested and cooked much like asparagus.

The milkweed harvest
Beekman 1802
The unopened flower buds can be cooked and are said to taste like sweet peas. Here is a recipe for Milkweed Bud and Cheddar Soup:

Milkweed Bud & Cheddar Soup
Kentucky Forager
The immature seed pods are also said to be very good when cooked. The flowers can even be boiled down into a tasty and unique syrup (just make sure you leave plenty for the butterflies!).

*CAUTION: Do not harvest milkweed shoots without the guidance of an experienced forager. The new shoots resemble Dog Bane, which is highly toxic.*

Like other milkweeds, the Swamp variety has been an important component of traditional medicine.

A tea was brewed from the roots and performed as an emetic, diuretic and powerful laxative.

This tea was also used to expel tapeworms - said to be effective within an hour after consumption.

The roots were also used medicinally to treat dysentery and asthma and added to liquid to make bitters.

Native Americans would harvest the whole plant and then rub it together to separate the fibers, using them for fishing line and sewing thread.

Although not its preferred larval plant, Swamp Milkweed offers an alternative for Monarchs if Common Milkweed isn't available.

The nectar-rich blossoms provide food for adult Monarchs as well, especially during migration.

However, other butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and countless pollinators also benefit from this late season food source.

Because of its striking beauty and compact growth habit, Swamp Milkweed makes a great landscaping addition.

It does best in inundated soil, but is surprisingly tolerant of average moisture levels.

You can plant it anywhere the soil stays wet most of the year, or even in a potted water garden to add beauty and drama to a sunny patio.

Where it really excels, however, is as a rain garden plant.

Any yard can benefit from a rain garden, but they are especially good for suburbs or areas with excessive runoff and flooding due to roads and large expanses of pavement.

It is best for rain water to soak slowly into the earth rather than rushing violently through culverts and into waterways, causing erosion and a host of other problems.

Prairie Moon Nursery
A rain garden acts like a miniature wetland: a sponge to soak up water and help it filter slowly through the soil. Areas of your yard subject to flooding are ideal, but any low spot will do. I may discuss rain gardens at length in another post, but here is one link that takes you through the process of creating one:

Swamp Milkweed is one of many excellent rain garden plants to choose from.

This crown jewel of the wetlands is one of the last bursts of pink before the autumn chill sets in. Take a walk at your nearest wetland so you can appreciate its beauty, or consider planting it at your own home so you (and your pollinators) can enjoy it all summer.

Be sure to join us for next Wednesday's Wildflower!

Click here to read about last week's wildflower, Harper's Umbrella Plant.

Medicinal information herein is shared strictly for anecdotal purposes. Do not attempt to self-medicate with wild herbs. Please consult a doctor first.

Next flower->


Plants for a Future

Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians - Dennis Horn & Tavia Cathcart

1 comment:

  1. many types of Milkweed! I never knew....

    Thanks for linking up with Green Thumb Thursday. We'd love to see you back again this week!