Poke Milkweed

 

Asclepias exaltata

There are several species of milkweed in our area; the flowers might be pink, red, orange, green or white. Pictured above is a white species called poke milkweed or tall milkweed. It grows 3 to 6 feet in height and bears large, smooth leaves that are opposite and broadly elliptic in shape. When the plant is in bloom, drooping umbels of white flowers emerge from the upper leaf axils. The flowers may be shaded purplish or green.

milkweed flower
Milkweed flower. Note the 5 petals that are bent backwards and the crown of 5 white hoods, each bearing a single white, curved “horn” that is longer than the hood.

All milkweed flowers have a unique structure: there are 5 petals that bend backwards around a central crown of 5 incurved “hoods” that sometimes bear a single “horn”. Poke milkweed flowers follow this pattern, and in this case, the horns are longer than the hoods. See the photo at right.

Milkweeds are probably best known for the white “milk” or latex that is exuded from the plant when a leaf or stem is broken. The milk can be toxic if ingested, although some people say that milkweed can be eaten if the plants are young and the cook who prepares them uses special precautions. As for me, I think I’ll pass on the eating part! I can enjoy them just the way they are!

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