Bloom of the Month – August

New calendar is out… And now for something completely different:

Let’s be honest there’s not exactly a plethora of choices this time of year.  That however should not detract from this month’s winner; boasting beauty brawn and style to spare, take a bow Narrow-leaf milkweed:

Asclepias fascicularis, “Asklepios” was the Greek god of healing, can be found in bloom anytime from May to September.  The year’s rainy season (or lack thereof) has caused blooms and seed pod formation to be spotty and somewhat random, mine didn’t bloom at all.  Let’s have a closer look.

Our local milkweed is a perennial herb which disappears completely from December-April.  Multiple thin green stems emerge from the ground in spring and grow to about 2 feet tall.  The lanceolate (long n skinny) 2 inch long leaves grow in whorled groups of 3-6 leaves.

The inflorescence is called an “umbel-like cyme”.  If you look closely they are bunches of tiny white 5 petalled flowers in colors ranging from pure white to rose to purple.

As you look closely the one thing you will definitely notice is the host of insects swarming every inch of the plant.  Have no fear! This is healthy and you should be worried if there weren’t insects.  From the yellow aphids to the red and black milkweed beetles to the monarch butterfly caterpillars, the plant is a feast for all and rarely is enough to damage.

Male tarantula hawk

As the blooms fade in late summer the form elongated pods which are equally popular with our many-legged friends.  The pods turn from green to yellow and finally brown, at which point they split, revealing long downy hairs which help carry the seeds off to glamorous destinations.

The Chumash had a few notable uses for milkweed.  The stem fibers made strong lightweight cordage for clothing, baskets, nets and men’s belts.  The would also let the sap from the stem congeal and chew it, sorta like a nasty tasting Wrigley’s.

In the garden milkweed can get unruly as it spreads quickly underground.  A must for any butterfly garden, nurseries also occasionally carry showy milkweed.  Don’t yank out the dead stems in December, lesser goldfinches like to use them for their nests.  You can currently find these blooming and starting to go to seed on the Ojai Meadow Preserve, around Lake Casitas and I’ve even spotted a big patch on the corner of Villanova and Ojai Avenue.

 

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