Written By: Andrea Bond, BRN Intern
Hello, Andrea here! Borderland’s BECY program recently did a planting project at Patagonia Flower Farm, planting native plants for both use and appearance. One of the most abundant species they planted was the Arizona Milkweed, definitely a plant worth a blog post! So this weeks blog is about the genus Asclepias--The Milkweeds.
While some may call this plant a weed or dangerous, those are both misconceptions. First, the Milkweed is a necessary native plant with a nice appearance, not a weed. Second, it is possible to eat too much milkweed and be harmed by the toxins inside, but it takes a large amount and animals don’t like to eat this bitter plant. Small children should be warned about the potential danger, but the danger is not so large that the milkweed should be outed from your yard or garden.
So why is the milkweed so necessary? Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweeds, meaning the survival of the monarch is directly tied to the survival of this plant! Monarch populations are decreasing alarmingly, so having milkweeds in your yard or garden is one of the best ways to support these beautiful creatures. Milkweeds are also used by many, many other pollinators, and are an important part of supporting all pollinators in our area.
Milkweed is not only useful for pollinators, but also humans! Herbalists have used milkweeds for everything from chest pain to fever, warts to indigestion. Saying it has widely varied uses is an understatement! However, while these are traditional uses, milkweeds are strong enough that they are not good for tonics. Leave this one to the professionals.
The steroids called cardenolides are thought to be the root of many of the milkweed’s uses. Different milkweeds have different levels of these cardenolides, and there are many different milkweeds across the United States. Here in Arizona, there are at least 29 native species, though the one the BECY students planted was the Arizona Milkweed.
Another special part of the milkweed is that Native Americans traditionally used milkweed for repelling insects, and the fiber inside milkweed stems and seed pods to create products like bowstrings, nets, baskets, and more. The milkweed was also used by the United States during World War II to line life jackets and flight suits, serving an important role in wartime shortage.
Perhaps in the future we will see more uses for milkweed, in pest control, down substitutes, or more! It’s always fun to have plants with stories in your yard or garden and milkweed has many and many great uses.
We will have several different kinds of milkweed available at our Monsoon Plant Sale tomorrow 9 - 3PM. Perfect time to pick a few up for your yard!
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