Tag Archives: wildflower guidebooks

Looking For Milkweeds

Spring wildflowers are blooming along the roads and up on the hills. Summer wildflowers are getting ready to bloom. I am already looking for milkweeds and finding them.

No, milkweeds are not blooming yet. They are growing. Would you recognize one?

Purple milkweed makes looking for milkweeds easy
One of the earliest Missouri milkweeds to bloom, purple milkweed can be five feet tall topped by a large umbel of purplish pink flowers. Fritillary, Sulphur, skipper butterflies are frequent visitors crowding in with the bees and wasps to enjoy the copious nectar.

Other than a few big milkweeds, would you recognize a milkweed flower? And what is a pipevine? Or a milkvine?

Some of these flowers make it into wildflower guidebooks. Most of them don’t as they are not big enough or common enough or colorful enough.

tall green milkweed makes looking for milkweeds hard
If you look closely at the flowers of the tall green milkweed, they have the same pentagonal disc, five backswept petals, five backswept sepals as more showy milkweeds. These flowers too attract many insects with their copious nectar.

Guidebooks have their limitations as well. Each plant is given a small bit of room for a flower picture and a description.

When I go looking for milkweeds, I need some basic information. Habitat, size, leaf shape and arrangement come to mind. Some of this in online, if you have a smartphone, which I don’t.

Having looked through “Missouri’s Milkweeds, Milkvines and Pipevines” I know some of these and can easily check the pages to refresh my memory.

Milkweed plants have opposite or whorled leaves. The flowers are arranged like pentagons with five sides. Most live in sunny, meadow type areas.

purple climbing milkweed or milkvine flowers
Like regular milkweed flowers, milkvine flowers have a central pentagonal disc and five petals. The leaves are heart shaped. This is Matelea decipiens, the purple milkvine. The white milkvine flowers of Matelea baldwinia look the same, but white.

Milkvines are climbing milkweeds. There are only two in Missouri. One is purple. The white one is only found in the southwest corner. They like wooded areas.

The two pipevines are very different from each other. One grows near rivers and has huge leaves, over a foot across, and green pipe-shaped flowers with purple fronts dangling from long, thick vines. The other is found in the woods and has a distinctive zigzag shape with purplish brown, pipe-shaped flowers on the ground.

Pipevine flowers look like one kind of pipe
All pipevine flowers have this pipe shape. They lure insects inside trapping them in the bulb at the top so they will fertilize the flower and get covered with pollen. This takes a day or so, but the insect has plenty to eat. The flower then wilts letting the insects escape to visit another flower.

Lots of information about these plants is stuffed into “Missouri’s Milkweeds, Milkvines and Pipevines”. When I go looking for milkweeds, I definitely want a copy in the truck for easy consultation.