All about Milkweed

2010–2013 Sherry Skipper Spurgeon All Rights Reserved.

The Crownflower (Calotropis gigantea) is another member of the Milkweed family and is the host plant for the Monarchs living in Hawaii.

Different varieties of Milkweed contain varying amounts of the cardenolide, and thus, the Monarch caterpillar that consumes the leaves will be more or less toxic to its predators depending upon the variety of Milkweed it has eaten. Asclepias curassavica (Tropical Milkweed) is one variety that has been found to have a high level of cardenolide. Apparently, the chemical also makes both the caterpillar and butterfly bitter tasting as well.

Milkweed can be DANGEROUS!

If household pets consumed Milkweed leaves it can be dangerous as the levels of the cardiac glycoside could have a serious effect on the animal's heart. (Cardiac glycosides are cardiac arresters which mean they can literally stop the heart!) Please be aware of this danger if you have pets that like to eat plants.

Milkweed can also be dangerous if the latex (the milky white sap) gets in the eye. Please use care when handling Milkweed leaves and be sure to wash your hands very well afterwards. If the latex does get into the eye there will be a burning sensation and then the vision will become blurred. What happens is the cornea will become severely inflammed and it will be necessary to get to an ophthalmologist immediately. There have been cases where people have lost some of their sight due to not going to the doctor! Take it from someone who has had two instances of having the latex in her eyes; it is not pleasant and took two weeks of being on special eyedrops to have the condition reversed.


Asclepias curassavica 'Silky Gold'

Collecting Seeds from the Seed

Milkweed plants are known for being quite popular with nectar-seeking insects (and Hummingbirds, too!). So, chances are, if you have a lot of Milkweed blossoms, soon, you will have many seed pods because those flowers have been pollinated! Harvesting and collecting the seeds are quite simple; follow the instructions below and you will have more than enough to share with friends and family.

Depending upon the type of Asclepias variety you have, your plant's seed pod may look slightly different. For example, the seed pod of an Asclepias physocarpa is spherical in shape, like a balloon whereas the seed pod of an Asclepias curassavica is more elongated like a football.

After the flower blossoms have finished blooming, and if they've been pollinated, you will soon see a little nub forming where the blossom used to be. Leave it alone as this is going to become the seed pod. After some time, the pod will begin to show a split and this is when you will need to take the pod off of the stem. You can easily snap the pod right off the stem; scissors are not needed.


Asclepias physocarpa 'Family Jewels'

The picture to the left shows the split beginning and the picture below shows the split widening. Both seed pods are from an Asclepias curassavica plant (Tropical Milkweed).


seed pod of the A. physocarpa


If left alone, the seed pod will open up completely and let loose seeds that will float by on 'silk.'

Note: The silk from the Milkweed plant was used during World War II to fill Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs). It has also been used to fill comforters as a hypo-allergenic filler.


Get a plastic cup and lid and a few coins. Any coin will do as they will be used for agitators.


Put the coins into the cup and empty the contents of the seed pod into the container. Put the lid on. Now, shake the cup. Twirl it around. Soon, you will find that the coins will have separated the silk fluff from the seeds. The seeds will sink to the bottom of the cup and the fluff will form a ball at the top.

You can now open the lid, pull out the ball of silk fluff, and have your cup of seeds!

Milkweed is the host plant used by the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterfly. Milkweed is the common name for the Asclepias plant and there are many different varieties of Asclepias, each with its own unique flower blossom and leaf shape. The special thing about this particular plant is that it contains a chemical called a cardenolide, a cardiac glycoside, which is toxic and is what makes the Monarch poisonous when the butterfly is eaten by birds or other animals.