Most of us are familiar with common milkweed and maybe butterfly milkweed, but many may not know about green milkweed. This plant is native to Iowa’s prairies, but it is not as conspicuous as the pinks, purples and oranges of some of our other milkweed species. The flowers are pale green, and found in bunches (as seen in the picture).
The leaves are long and narrow – sometimes over six inches long. As with other milkweed species, the seed is found in pods. The pods are about 3 inches long, wider at the base, and taper toward the tip. The seeds are flat and brown and are attached to a tuft of white fluff that helps wind carry the seeds away from the parent plant.
It can bloom from June through August depending on conditions. It is typically up to 4 feet tall.
To most people and animals, milkweed leaves do not taste good, but the nectar is good for many insects. Some caterpillars – like those of monarch and milkweed tussock moth – eat milkweed leaves, which in turn, may make them taste bad to would be predators. I have read that Native Americans chewed the roots to treat sore throats and diarrhea and to spice soups.
Planting milkweed to help monarch butterflies has become quite popular, but there are a couple things to consider before jumping in. One thing is to make sure you are planting milkweed species that are native to the state of Iowa. If you can get local seed/plants, that is even better since they are adapted for the clay soils of our area. Another thing is that the monarchs will need more than just milkweed. Milkweed is the host plant for the caterpillar, but adults will need food as well. By the time fall migration comes around, most of our milkweeds are done blooming. That means if you only planted milkweed, there is no nectar source for the adults. It is best to diversify your planting with many native prairie species. You want blooms all summer and fall so all types of butterflies will have nectar to eat. It may also be a good idea to start small. You can always add onto your native planting.