Depth range (m): 1 - 1
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Evolution and Systematics
Any broken part of milkweeds wards off herbivores via a poisonous latex that it exudes.
"Milkweed gets its name from a poisonous latex that exudes from its broken stem. This is so toxic that it can give a small animal a heart attack." (Attenborough 1995:70-71)
Learn more about this functional adaptation.
- Attenborough, D. 1995. The Private Life of Plants: A Natural History of Plant Behavior. London: BBC Books. 320 p.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage
Specimen Records: 281
Specimens with Sequences: 225
Specimens with Barcodes: 171
Species With Barcodes: 42
Public Records: 56
Public Species: 16
Asclepias L. (1753), the milkweeds, is a genus of herbaceous perennial, dicotyledonous plants that contains over 140 known species. It previously belonged to the family Asclepiadaceae, but this is now classified as the subfamily Asclepiadoideae of the dogbane family Apocynaceae.
Pollination in this genus is accomplished in an unusual manner. Pollen is grouped into complex structures called pollinia (or "pollen sacs"), rather than being individual grains or tetrads, as is typical for most plants. The feet or mouthparts of flower-visiting insects such as bees, wasps and butterflies, slip into one of the five slits in each flower formed by adjacent anthers. The bases of the pollinia then mechanically attach to the insect, pulling a pair of pollen sacs free when the pollinator flies off. Pollination is effected by the reverse procedure in which one of the pollinia becomes trapped within the anther slit.
Asclepias species produce their seeds in follicles. The seeds, which are arranged in overlapping rows, have white, silky, filament-like hairs known as pappus, silk, or floss. The follicles ripen and split open, and the seeds, each carried by several dried pappi, are blown by the wind. They have many different flower colorations.
Milkweeds are an important nectar source for bees and other nectar-seeking insects, and a larval food source for monarch butterflies and their relatives, as well as a variety of other herbivorous insects (including numerous beetles, moths, and true bugs) specialized to feed on the plants despite their chemical defenses.
Milkweeds use three primary defenses to limit damage caused by caterpillars: hairs on the leaves, cardenolide toxins, and latex fluids. Data from a DNA study indicate more recently evolved milkweed species use less of these preventative strategies, but grow faster than older species, potentially regrowing faster than caterpillars can consume them.
The milkweed filaments from the follicles are hollow and coated with wax, and have good insulation qualities. During World War II, over 5,000 t (5,500 short tons) of milkweed floss were collected in the United States as a substitute for kapok. As of 2007, milkweed is grown commercially as a hypoallergenic filling for pillows. A study of the insulative properties of various materials found that milkweed was outperformed by other materials in insulation, loft, and lumpiness, but scored well on various metrics when mixed with down feathers.
Milkweed latex contains about 1 to 2% latex, and was attempted as a source of natural rubber by both Germany and the United States during World War II. No record has been found of large-scale success.
Milkweed also contains cardiac glycoside poisons which inhibit animal cells from maintaining a proper K+, Ca+ concentration gradient. As a result, many natives of South America and Africa used arrows poisoned with these glycosides to fight and hunt more effectively. Milkweed is toxic and may cause death when animals consume 10% of their body weight in any part of the plant. Milkweed also causes mild dermatitis in some who come in contact with it.
The leaves of Asclepias species and some species formerly classified as Asclepias, such as Gomphocarpus physocarpus, are the only food source for monarch butterfly larvae and other milkweed butterflies. These plants are therefore often used in butterfly gardening.
Some Asclepias species:
|Asclepias albicans||Whitestem milkweed, native to the mojave and sonoran deserts|
|Asclepias amplexicaulis||Blunt-leaved milkweed, native to central and eastern United States|
|Asclepias asperula||Antelope horns, native to American southwest and northern Mexico|
|Asclepias californica||California milkweed, native to central and southern California|
|Asclepias cordifolia||Heart-leaf milkweed, native to the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Range up to 2000 m.|
|Asclepias cryptoceras||Pallid milkweed, native to the western United States.|
|Asclepias curassavica||Scarlet milkweed, tropical milkweed, bloodroot, bloodflower, bastard ipecacuanha, native to the American tropics, introduced to other continents|
|Asclepias eriocarpa||Woollypod milkweed, native to California, Baja California, and Nevada|
|Asclepias erosa||Desert milkweed, native to California, Arizona, and Baja California|
|Asclepias exaltata||Poke milkweed, native to eastern North America|
|Asclepias fascicularis||Narrow-leaf milkweed, native to Western United States|
|Asclepias humistrata||Sandhill milkweed, native to southeastern United States|
|Asclepias incarnata||Swamp milkweed, native to wetlands of North America|
|Asclepias lanceolata||Lanceolate milkweed (Cedar Hill milkweed), native to coastal plain of eastern United States from Texas to New Jersey|
|Asclepias linaria||Pine needle milkweed, native to Mojave and Sonoran deserts|
|Asclepias linearis||Slim milkweed|
|Asclepias longifolia||Longleaf milkweed|
|Asclepias meadii||Mead's milkweed, native to midwestern United States|
|Asclepias nyctaginifolia||Mojave milkweed, native to the American southwest|
|Asclepias obovata||Pineland milkweed|
|Asclepias purpurascens||Purple milkweed, native to eastern, southern, and midwestern United States|
|Asclepias quadrifolia||Four-leaved milkweed, native to eastern United States and Canada|
|Asclepias rubra||Red milkweed|
|Asclepias solanoana||Serpentine milkweed, native to northern California|
|Asclepias speciosa||Showy milkweed, native to western United States and Canada|
|Asclepias subulata||Rush milkweed, leafless milkweed|
|Asclepias subverticillata||Horsetail milkweed|
|Asclepias sullivantii||Sullivant's milkweed|
|Asclepias syriaca||Common milkweed|
|Asclepias tuberosa||Butterfly weed, pleurisy root|
|Asclepias uncialis||Wheel milkweed|
|Asclepias variegata||White milkweed|
|Asclepias verticillata||Whorled milkweed|
|Asclepias vestita||Woolly milkweed|
|Asclepias viridis||Green milkweed|
|Asclepias welshii||Welsh's milkweed|
Formerly placed here
Some species formerly classified under the Asclepias genus include:
- Calotropis gigantea (L.) W.T.Aiton (as A. gigantea L.)
- Calotropis procera (Aiton) W.T.Aiton (as A. procera Aiton)
- Cynanchum louiseae Kartesz & Gandhi (as A. nigra L.)
- Cynanchum thesioides (Freyn) K.Schum. (as A. sibirica L.)
- Funastrum clausum (Jacq.) Schltr. (as A. clausa Jacq.)
- Gomphocarpus cancellatus (Burm.f.) Bruyns (as A. cancellatus Burm.f. or A. rotundifolia Mill.)
- Gomphocarpus fruticosus (L.) W.T.Aiton (as A. fruticosa L.)
- Marsdenia macrophylla (Humb. & Bonpl. ex Willd.) E.Fourn. (as A. macrophylla Humb. & Bonpl. ex Schult.)
- Marsdenia tenacissima (Roxb.) Moon (as A. tenacissima Roxb.)
- Matelea maritima (Jacq.) Woodson (as A. maritima Jacq.)
- Sarcostemma acidum (Roxb.) Voigt (as A. acida Roxb.)
- Sarcostemma viminale (L.) R.Br. (as A. viminalis (L.) Steud.)
- Telosma cordata (Burm.f.) Merr. (as A. cordata Burm.f.)
- Telosma pallida (Roxb.) Craib (as A. pallida Roxb.)
- Tylophora indica (Burm.f.) Merr. (as A. asthmatica L.f.)
- Vincetoxicum hirundinaria Medik. (as A. vincetoxicum L.)
- Vincetoxicum pycnostelma Kitag. (as A. paniculata Bunge)
- Xysmalobium undulatum (L.) R.Br. (as A. undulata L.)
- "Taxon: Asclepias L.". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 2003-03-13. Retrieved 2013-02-05.
- Ramanujan, Krishna (Winter 2008). "Discoveries: Milkweed evolves to shrug off predation". Northern Woodlands (Center for Northern Woodlands Education) 15 (4): 56.
- Hauswirth, Katherine (2008-10-26). "The Heroic Milkweed". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2014-02-14.
- Wykes, Gerald (2014-02-04). "A Weed Goes to War, and Michigan Provides the Ammunition". MLive Media Group. Michigan History Magazine. Retrieved 2014-02-14.
- Evangelista, R.L. (2007). "Milkweed seed wing removal to improve oil extraction". Industrial Crops and Products 25 (2): 210–217. doi:10.1016/j.indcrop.2006.10.002.
- McCullough, Elizabeth A. (April 1991). "Evaluation of Milkweed Floss as an Insulative Fill Material". Textile Research Journal 61 (4): 203–210.
- Asclepias subverticillata (A. Gray) Vail, USDA PLANTS
- "GRIN Species Records of Asclepias". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2011-02-22.
- Everitt, J.H.; Lonard, R.L.; Little, C.R. (2007). Weeds in South Texas and Northern Mexico. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press. ISBN 0-89672-614-2
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