Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"Pretty in Pink"

Most people probably aren't excited by the words swamp, and milkweed. But now that this beautiful flower has grabbed your attention, I can tell you that it's a Swamp Milkweed. Very pink. Don't you think?

It generally likes to have its "feet wet", often growing in shallow water on the margins of swamps, creeks, rivers, lakes, and most wetlands. These are deep pink flowers with white trim clustered atop a tall branching stem.

Here's that stem; very stout, and solitary, but sometimes clustered.

The leaves are numerous, narrow, up to 4" (10cm) long, and opposite. This leaf shape is called Lanceolate (lance-shaped, broadest above the base and tapering to the apex, but several times longer than wide) ... like Willow leaves. Look at those prominent, whitish veins.

(Click on any photo to enlarge)
These soon-to-be blossoms seem to concentrate the color before they open. Can you find the five fine lines where each bud will split open?

This is a look at the top 12" of the Swamp Milkweed plant, showing stems, leaves and flowers.

A good close-up view of the flowers. First the Botanical description:

1/4" (6mm) wide; five petals, recurved; elevated central crown divided into five hoods, purplish to pink, borne in umbels at top of plant. The small but complex flowers of Milkweeds show distinctive bent back-petals with both male and female flower parts united in a single central structure called the gynostegium

Then my alternate portrait:

Compact little capsules burst into light pink crowns above, and flared pink skirts below. Like ballerinas performing for bees to arrive.

What do you see?

Honeybee arrives for the dance; nectaring without competition. The pollen occurs in waxy masses called pollinia, which adhere to the legs of insects. Insects may get their feet or tongues trapped in the pollinia slots; the sight of dead or trapped insects stuck in milkweed flowers is not uncommon.

That's what probably happened to the one on the bottom of this trio.

Flowering: June to August

Height: 1 - 4 feet (30-120 cm)

Range: Manitoba east to Nova Scotia, south to Florida, west to Texas, and north to North Dakota. Also in the Rocky Mountain states.

Fruit: Elongated pod; spindle-shaped, erect.  2 - 4" (5-10 cm) long, opening along one side.

If each flower were to develop into a seedpod, the plant would be loaded with them. As it is, only about five pods (each containing about 50 seeds) develop from about 75 flowers per plant.

Each seed has a tuft of hairs (similar to Common Milkweed) which assists dispersal by wind and water.


Twine and thread were made from the fibers, by rolling the fibers on the leg with the palm of the hand. Native Americans also braided the stem fibers into strong cordage. Maybe you want to make some twine or a fine line.

I will try to remember to show you the slender dried pod this fall.

The next time you hear the words swamp and milkweed in the same sentence, you will have a new appreciation for this unique plant. If you see one in a wetland near you, stop for a closer look; tell me what you think...

"Pretty in Pink"

CLICK on photos to enlarge.

Swamp Milkweed  (Asclepias incarnata)

Photo Location:  Seidman Park (Seidman),  Kent County,  Michigan