Common Milkweed  

Blooming time: June -August

Height: 3-5 ft.

Stems and Leaves: Common milkweed is a stout plant with downy leaves. A milky juice oozes from the stem when broken.

Flowers and Fruit: Domed, often somewhat drooping flower clusters vary in subtle shades of dusty rose, lavender and dull brownish purple. The flowers have a fragrant aroma. The pointed gray-green seedpods can be told from those of other milkweeds by their warty appearance. The seedpod may be 4 inches long by 1 inch in diameter tapering to a curved tip. The seedpod is filled with small brown seeds each with a tuft of white hairs at one end. Fruiting begins in late July, and seed release begins about mid-September.

Interesting Facts: Milkweeds have long been used for medicinal purposes. The Meskwaki made a tea from the root and used it "to expel worms in an hour." Other tribes burned off the plumes, then ground the seeds and steeped them in water to use in drawing the poison from a rattlesnake bite. Milkweeds were also used as food. Some tribes even cultivated them. The Ojibwa used the flowers and buds in soups. The Chippewa cut and stewed the flowers to make a form of preserves. Some American Indians cooked young pods with buffalo meat. The flowers of the common milkweed were collected by the Sioux in the morning while they were still dew-covered. The flowers were then squeezed to get a juice that was boiled until it became an edible brown sugar. During World War II, the milky sap was tested as a rubber substitute and the plumes of the seed heads were tried as a replacement for kapok in life preservers. In Europe, the silky fibers of the plumes have been used for making hats and for stuffing pillows.

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Page last updated March 24, 2015
Text resources: Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie- The Upper Midwest, Sylvan T. Runkel and Dean M. Roosa;
A Field Guide to Wildflowers of the Northeastern and North-central North America, Roger Tory Peterson and Margaret McKenny
Photo by Barb McGee -