Like us, you may be on mailing lists if you buy seeds and other gardening stuff through the mail. And you may also be getting catalogs advertising $25 in free merchandise on the front cover. A quick read of the fine print reveals that one must buy $25 worth to get the free $25. This seems hardly unreasonable, at least at first glance.
I usually enjoy paging through these to look at the pictures before depositing them into the recycling bin. Recently I paged through one of these catalogs and was surprised by a "flower" called "Virginian Silk" with the subtitle: "Silky seedpods resemble parrots!" The photo showed four fat, green seedpods hanging from the edge of a glass of water as if they were drinking from it. Well, this piqued my curiosity so I leaned forward for a closer look.
The seed pods seemed very familiar. Fortunately, the scientific name for this amazing garden delight was provided: "asclepias syriaca.” A quick internet search brought the name right up. And, sure enough, my suspicions were right on: good ol' milkweed. It goes by other common names including Butterfly Flower, and (unfamiliar to me) Virginia Silkweed. Although the young leaves and unripened seed pods are said to be edible (they should be cooked first), and the plant is a well known Monarch butterfly food, it is toxic to grazing animals although the animals tend to avoid it due to its unpleasant flavor.
As a kid I blew silky seeds out of many a ripened seed pod, watching them go wafting in the breeze. And have often collected seed pods for dried floral arrangements. I've known milkweed all the way from Wisconsin to Maine, having often seen patches of it growing in pastures and ditches.
And the ditch and the pasture are good places for it. You may wish to leave it there! In such environments the surrounding root systems of sod and other weeds seem to help keep it in check.
Totally another story in looser, more open garden soil. The plant spreads via underground runners. When you pull one up pieces of the runners break off. Each of those pieces will send up a new plant. This makes it very difficult, if not near-impossible to eradicate should you decide you don’t want it. I've done battle with a similar weed, and it is never-ending. Milkweed seeds must be for the birds because the plant will spread itself without them!
The catalog company is offering this garden wonder for the fabulous price of $7.99. I think they have it overpriced by $7.99! So... a word to the wise... check out the scientific name and know what you are ordering! -jmm