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Common and Scientific Names

Showy Milkweed is one of the plants belonging to the
Milkweed Family. The scientific name for the
Milkweed Family is Asciepidaceae.

The common name "milkweed" is given to this plant
because of the milky, white sap it produces when the
stem is broken. The term "weed" refers to the fact
that milkweed grows in poor soil.        Image: Karl Holte

The scientific name of milkweed is
Asclepias speciosa.

Asclpias is for the ancient Greek physician Asculapius
who learned the healing arts
from the ancient
physician Chiron.

Speciosa is the species name because this plant
is the typical common species of milkweed.

What Does Milkweed Look Like?

Showy milkweeds have a thick, stout stem,
and grow from three to six feet tall.
Dense white hairs may cover the
stem and beneath the leaves. The large leaves grow opposite from one another
and have an oval shape.

The flowers of Asclepias speciosa
grow in a ball-shaped cluster at the top
of the thick stem. The flowers can be
pink or cream in color and have
a symmetrical star-shape that can be
evenly divided in halves.

In the late summer three to five inch
long seed pods ripen. Flat seeds with
long, silky umbrella-shaped hairs
are carried on the wind to new areas
where milkweed will grow.

Where Is Milkweed Found?

Asclepias speciosa grows in
weedy locations where soil has been
disturbed. Along roadsides,
cultivated fields and irrigation ditches,
as well as along streams and in
wetland areas.

Milkweed Cordage

Idaho's Native People harvested milkweed for cordage
in late summer through the winter. The plant fibers were
removed in the same way as dogbane, by splitting the
stem open by hand in four equal sections. Then rubbing
the sections between the hands to loosen the fibers before
twisting them into cordage.