Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Purple milkweed

For the second week in a row, I have the pleasure of sharing images of wildflowers I’ve never found in nature. Purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens) is not nearly as rare as the small white lady’s slipper that Katie Byerly featured last week, but it’s much less prevalent than swamp milkweed or butterfly milkweed, let alone common milkweed.

The species is native to much of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains. According to the Illinois Wildflowers site, you may find purple milkweed on “lower slopes of hill prairies, meadows in wooded areas, thickets and woodland borders, bluffs and open woodlands, oak savannas, glades, and roadsides. This plant usually occurs along prairie edges near wooded areas, rather than in open prairie. It is usually found in higher quality habitats.” Alternatively, you can grow your own; Minnesota Wildflowers advises that this species “will bring the gift of insects and birds to your garden.”

Purple milkweed resembles common milkweed, but its flowers are a deeper color, “it is less hairy overall,” and its seed pods are smooth rather than prickled.

Four naturalists took the enclosed photographs in four different counties.

Let’s start with an Iowa wildflower Wednesday first: a video courtesy of Lael Darrow Neal, who found this insect sampling flowers at Whiterock Conservancy in June 2017. I’m not sure about the butterfly ID; purple milkweed nectar attracts many kinds of pollinators.

Andy Asell took these photographs at a prairie remnant in Warren County.

Andy also filmed a video of a newborn monarch, recently emerged from a chrysalis on a purple milkweed plant. I can’t figure out how to embed that video here, but you can find it on Facebook.

More proof that butterflies love purple milkweed, courtesy of Lora Conrad, who took these photographs in Van Buren County.

Barry Mateer found this purple milkweed blooming in Clarke County in June.

When he returned a few days ago, he found smooth seed pods. Other wildflower spotters have told me they don’t often find purple milkweed seed pods, because deer enjoy eating these plants.

Tags: Wildflowers
  • Beautiful photos!

    The butterflies are great-spangled fritillaries. Their caterpillars feed on native violets. I’ve never seen a photo of so many at once, wow. They are classic oak savanna butterflies and purple milkweeds are classic oak savanna flowers.

    It’s great to find out that purple milkweed grows on Whiterock Conservancy. I hope and assume it grows on other protected Iowa land.

    One of the few times I’ve seen purple milkweed was years ago around Lake Panorama in southern Iowa. The flowers were in full bloom and were being visited by great spangled fritillaries. They were growing in oak savanna that was divided and flagged because it was about to be turned into expensive houses. The flowers and butterflies were beautiful, but their future was not.

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