Milkweed Madness

August 11, 2010

Milkweed blows my mind.

The flowers are long tubes, like folded origami, elegant and refined. They are unique, delicate and astonishing. After the petals wither, dry and drop away, there is a little button left over, round and pink and dotted white.

From that little button come spikes, still pink, that mirror a flower but not milkweed flowers. The spikes make that button look like a coneflower or a daisy in form, but not in color.

Then it gets a little strange. Those spikes turn into tubes that reach out and twist and grow, like something from another planet, far out in space, something that just doesn’t belong in our flora. They are still pink, but deeply colored, almost like some sort of live flesh, deepening that impression of an alien being – watchers from another world.

At the end of these tubes, pods begin to form. At first just green buds, interesting but recognizable as something you’d see on a plant. The pods begin to form, looking like elongated heads, and with those undulating tubes, it starts to seem snake-like, writhing and twisting in super slow motion as it grows.

Now, the pods nestle against the leaves, seemingly growing down those stems. They feel like hollow rubber balls when I give them a gentle squish and give easily under the pressure.

I found that milkweed pods are edible if you boil them (um, no thanks) and that the down inside of them was used to stuff life preservers in World War II. Now, it is being used more and more as stuffing for pillows and quilts. Native Americans used them from emerging shoots to dying stalks as they are a most useful plant.

The butterflies are why I grow them. Monarchs, swallowtails, admirals and viceroys, cabbage, azure – they are all warmly welcomed and encouraged by the milkweed.

I am now waiting for the pods to harden and then split, to throw their soft blowsy seeds upon the wind and into my garden, to sow new plants for next year.

But if I see a little spaceship, or a tiny green man with antennas emerge, I won’t be surprised.


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