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All Manner of Milkweed August 16, 2010

Posted by Wapello Warbler in Louisa County, Wild Flowers.
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Did you know there are several kinds of Milkweed? in fact, my field guide says there are 72 different species that are native to North America. Louisa County, Iowa lies within the growing range of nine of the more common species.

Many species of Milkweed produce a foul-tasting milky sap. Monarch butterflies and several other black and orange insects eat the stuff. As a result, they taste bad, too, and the birds leave them alone.

Although Milkweed gets it name from the sap, there are a few species that don’t produce it. The boundaries of the family are actually drawn from the unique flower structure and seed pods that all the members share.

Here is an extreme closeup of Swamp Milkweed. Note that the individual flowers have five petals that hang down from a central five-sided structure that consists of “hoods” and “horns” and that there is a smaller flower inside.

Milkweed Flower Structure

The relative sizes of the flower parts; the size, shape, and color of the clusters; and the shapes of the leaves are the primary ways the different species may be distinguished.

Here are pictures of the species I’ve been able to photograph so far. Behind each picture is a mini-post that provides more information and a larger version of the picture.

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