Swamp Milkweed

Asclepias incarnata

swamp milkweed

Swamp milkweed, photographed at Dupuis Wildlife and Environmental Area, Canal Point, Martin County, in September 2015.

Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, is one of the few milkweeds in Florida that is actually edible. Apparently. According to sources. Not that we're about to try it any time soon.

Milkweeds generally are known for their poisons, alkaloids that make monarch and similarly colored butterflies toxic to prey. But the Menominee tribe of Native Americans actually used the flower heads of this plant in soups made of deer broth or fat. They also stored the flower heads to eat during winter.

And the U.S. Department of Agriculture notes that other parts of the plant are edible — if prepared properly, which involves washing them numerous times to remove the toxins. (If it tastes bitter, do not eat.)

Edible or not, swamp mikweed is a rarity in South Florida. It's distinguished from other milkweeds found here by its pinkish flowers. And while rare here, it's common elsewhere. It's native to eastern Canada and most of the United States, with the exception of the West Coast states, Arizona and oddly enough, Mississippi.

The plant itself can grow to three to five feet high, broader than it is tall, with long, narrow leaves. It is a summer bloomer, with flowers appearing in late June or early July and continuing into August and September. As the name implies swamp milkweed likes it wet. It can grow in standing water or heavily saturated soil. Wet meadows, swamps, the edges of ponds, lakes and streams are among its favorite habitats.

Like other milkweeds, it serves as a larval host for a number of butterflies, including the monarch, queen and possibly the soldier. It is a source of nectar for a variety of skippers and other butterflies, as well as other pollinators. Which would make swamp milkweed a pretty good plant in theory for butterfly gardens and natural landscapes, but the Institute for Regional Conservation notes that its rarity in the region might be caused by a lack of compatibility with the types of soils found here.

Other Native Americans used swamp milkweed as a diuretic and kidney tonic, to remove worms, as an aid for bad backs and to make a wash for strengthening the bodies of children and adults. The stems were made into a cord used to pull teeth.

Swamp milkweed is a member of Apocynaceae, the dog bane, milkweed family. It was formerly a member of Asclepiadaceae, the milkweed family, but all milkweeds have been reclassified. Another name: rose milkweed.

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Published by Wild South Florida, PO Box 7241, Delray Beach, FL 33482.

Photographs by David Sedore. Photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without permission.