Posts Tagged ‘Swamp milkweed’


Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is one of a couple of types of milkweed found here. It features broad leaves on a sturdy stalk and around mid-summer, produces light pink flowers held in globe-like clusters. Each small flower features 5 hooded petals above with 5 sepals below. Milkweed takes its name from the white sap that is exuded if its stem is broken. Interestingly, the genus name syriaca means ‘of Syria’, because the plant grows well there, but it is actually a native of North America and was carried across the ocean by early explorers. Milkweed produces networks of runners about 15 cm underground, and each year a plant sends up new shoots from these rhizomes.


Milkweeds produce a lot of nectar and are popular with insects. Bees are the main pollinators. They feed on the nectar and carry away milkweed pollen on the sacs on their legs. The milky sap of the milkweed contains a glycoside which is poisonous to many animals. Several insects including milkweed beetles and monarch butterfly caterpillars, feed on the leaves and acquire protection from predators by retaining these poisons.


Milkweed is most readily identified in the autumn, when its large seedpods open and release their beautiful downy crop of parachuted seeds, which can often be seen floating on the wind. When I was a youngster, we used to call these floating bits of fluff Santa Clauses.


Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) prefers moist ground and can be found growing along rivers and around ponds. It’s leaves are more lance-like than those of Common Milkweed, and the flowers are a much brighter pink. Like other members of the family, Swamp Milkweed produces a milky sap. Its long seedpods are are held in a more upright posture than those of Common Milkweed, but the fluffy seed parachutes are similar.


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The other day, I walked down to the pond to see what the inhabitants were up to. As soon as I got there, I turned around and walked back to the house, because I was greeted by a horde of deer flies. I put on a sweatshirt, even though it was a warm day, to save swatting at my arms. Back at the pond, I took stock of who was out and about.


Along the shore, dozens of bluets were zipping back and forth and perching on vegetation along the edge of the water. Many pairs were flying in tandem, or were forming a copulation wheel, the position in which the male transfers a packet of sperm to the female.


You know that “I’m being watched” feeling? Down by the pond, you don’t have to be paranoid to believe that many eyes are watching you. A lot of those eyes belong to frogs. As I walked along the shore, every few yards a large frog would leap into the pond before my advance. Many more simply rested in the water and watched from a safe distance. The pond is home to a sizable population of Bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) and a fewer number of Green frogs (Rana clamitans). One charismatic character seemed to have a Mona Lisa smile:


Another was floating in a relaxed posture as if enjoying a day at the beach…which I guess he was!


This big fellow sang a few bars of his throbbing love song for me. Well, maybe I wasn’t the female he had in mind…


Along the shore, schools of tiny fish fry and minnows swam by.


The vegetation, both in the water and along the edges is full and luxuriant. There is plentiful pondweed (Potamogeton sp.) to provide cover for floating frogs and little fish. Along the shore, Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) adds a touch of colour.


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