Milkweed ID - A. speciosa, variegata, syriaca, or X?

hermitonthehill(7a/b)May 23, 2007

I could use some help from the "wildflower folks" here in TN.... a few years ago I snapped a photo of a wildflower and I forget where I shared the photo at, but someone liked it and wanted some and told me it was "Showy Milkweed"... I knew of two specimens on the hill at the time, several hundred feet away from one another. Then, nothing for a few years until this year. I found four more specimens this evening and snapped pictures of them. The first one is less than 2 feet from where the original/first specimen was and the other three very close to that - from 2-30 feet in distance (actually probably way under 30' at max, but I want to be safe on an estimate and go over rather than under)... anyway, I hopped online, discovered my husband was wrong - my memory card won't fit in his laptop's slot, so I currently can't transfer it to upload - grah double grah - but in looking around online, notably one place that had photos of 16 species of Asclepias (good photos), I found myself in doubt. I was TOLD this was Showy Milkweed, but after looking at the photos, I'm not sure if it is A. speciosa, A. syriaca, A. variegata, or a commonplace hybrid/cross between A. speciosa and A. syriaca. Right now the blooms aren't open - a few are beginning to open, but for the most part they are closed tight and some still developing their heads, small, and still light green in colour and I can't remember the name of the original specimen's photo file on my website to look at it and compare it to what I've seen online.

Is there any sure-fire or easy way to tell them apart? I mean I keep looking at the online photos (which the blooms are open on while these are still closed) and ticking off similarities and traits I'm not sure match or don't match... but I just can't be sure.

Any experienced hints?

Can anyone tell me how big the seeds of Milkweed are? Form? Colour? Best method to time and harvest/collect seed? Is it easier propagated by seed or by tuber division or transplant?

While some info cites this for full sun - these particular specimens are actually in the woods and beneath Oaks and near pines - a goodly amount of dappled shade, all things considered... I have not yet ever seen one come up in the open/unwooded areas of the property. (but that is not an indicator on the plant's spread necessarily because this is the first time I have allowed the "open" areas to grow up as high as they are and a great many different plants being allowed to reach mature heights - this milkweed could have progeny in the "open" that has never been allowed to "grow up" in the past - though if they are, they haven't yet and I'm not sure how much longer I can stand the open areas NOT being mowed/cut) Off the top of my head, I can't recall seeing it elsewhere on the hill aside from that second specimen several years back....

So - any insight?

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tngreenthumb(z6 TN)

Are the flower heads going to be rounded or flat? Here's a bloom head from A. syriaca. (or so I was told) Not much foliage visible, but these have rather large, tough leaves.

These get up to 4ft tall or more if left alone. I'm sure they make seeds but from what I can tell these return from the roots every year. And you'll likely need a backhoe to dig them. Several tubers were dug up when they did the grading for our house. I'll try and remember to get some photos of some of these that have volunteered in one of our beds.

Plus some other's for ID as well. I have at least two I transplanted from the yard to save them from the blades.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2007 at 3:31PM
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A. speciosa and A. syriaca may be a little hard to tell apart. There should be a discernable difference in the leaves. A. variegata will be easier to distinguish, especially when it blooms.

Milkweed seed are about half the size of your fingernail (maybe just a little smaller than half of mine). The seeds are flat and brown in color. They are attached to a silk top (parachute) that allows the seed to travel in the wind. When you see the plant with seeds present (after flowering), there will be no doubt what/where the seeds are and how to collect them. Collecting the seeds is extremely easy. Sometimes keeping the silk from static-clinging to your hands is the challange.

Plant propagation can be done in different ways and the difficulty of division varies by species. In general, I would say that it would be easier to plant by seed. Some species are very difficult to divide or transplant, some aren't.

If you want to mow/clear the field, just watch as you mow or mark the sites and mow around them. That's what I do.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2007 at 3:53PM
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Soeur(z6b TN)

I grow A. syriaca, purpurescens, exaltata, verticillata, incarnata, quadrifolia, tuberosa, variegata, viridis and viridiflora, all from wild-collected seed. A. speciosa I haven't come across, which doesn't mean it doesn't occur somewhere in TN, but I've never seen it here. I have seen it in the upper Midwest (Wisconsin).

There are shade-tolerant milkweeds. Once your plant comes into full bloom, the color will help. If it's white, check out A. variegata. If bright rosy purple, check out A. purpurescens. If the flower clusters are kind of open and hang from the leaf axils, check A. exaltata. If the foliage is four leaves whorled around the stem, check A. quadrifolia.

Given your description of habitat, my first guess would be A. variegata. This species likes dryish woods. I find it both under hickories and oaks in significant shade and along woods edges. Leaves are thick with rounded tips, darkish green above/pale and hairy under. Bloom heads are large and lovely, snow white with a little purple band around the center upon close inspection. This species is coming into bloom now.

Syriaca, BTW, doesn't come into bloom until late summer. It's also aggressively colonial, so you'd be seeing a patch, not a plant here and there. It also wants sun.


    Bookmark   May 24, 2007 at 8:04PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Wow Marty! I'm impressed by your collection of Milkweed! To have collected the seeds yourself for that many species in the wild is an impressive feat to me. I have only seen two types growing naturally around here. Is it one of your favorites or just another example in an extensive collection?

Which species do you find "invasive" and which do you find more tame? What do you do to keep the adventureous ones in check? Which kinds do you find easier to grow? What are your favorites?

    Bookmark   May 24, 2007 at 11:41PM
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Soeur(z6b TN)

I'm the propagator at a native plant nursery, so growing milkweeds is part of my job. But I will say that prior to my arrival at the company they grew three species only -- tuberosa, of course, plus incarnata and verticillata. I confess I do love milkweeds, so my interest has perhaps expanded their offerings a wee bit.

Syriaca is certainly invasive, so I only spec it into designs where that characteristic is a desirable one -- prairie restorations, butterfly meadows and so forth. Not a plant for the garden bed, in my opinion. It also gets very tall around here; eight feet is not unusual if moisture is decent. I haven't had much trouble with overenthusiastic spreading from any other types. Easiest to grow is incarnata, in my experience, which is probably why it's pretty generally available. It also seems to be the #1 favorite species with Monarchs as a larval food -- they'll defoliate a clump and leave another Asclepias species nearby pretty much alone.

My favorites are viridis, purpurescens and variegata. Each is showy in its own way, with good across-the-yard garden impact, and I do like showy plants. :) I find the elaborate floral structure of all Asclepias pretty wonderful, actually. It's a genus worth getting up close and personal with.

Here on the Western Highland Rim I find variegata, purpurescens, syriaca and quadrifolia. In the cedar glades of the Central Basin I get viridis, viridiflora and verticillata. On the Plateau I get exaltata. Tuberosa and incarnata are in all locales I typically scout.


    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 11:40PM
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I'm still trying to find a way to get the pix transferred so I can share them. I went back to check on the plants again today - and in lieu of developing seed-heads, it appears that something has come along and selectively eaten JUST the flower-heads. Glad I got photos of them before! From descriptions and info here, I'm leaning towards A. variegata as well, but hopefully I can sort out my picture-transfer dilemma SOON and be able to get a positive ID by linking up at least one image. Bear with me!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2007 at 12:08PM
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