Announcing the 2015 Kansas Wildflower of the Year: Spider milkweed

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Spider milkweed flowers. Photo by Michael Haddock.

While commonly seen in prairie pastures of the eastern two-thirds of Kansas, most people probably don’t think about the spider milkweed often, but the native Kansas plant has been named as the 2015 Kansas Wildflower of the Year by the Kansas Native Plant Society.

Each year, KNPS chooses a native Kansas plant as the Wildflower of the Year. The plant resources committee chose the spider milkweed, Asclepias viridis, primarily for its importance as a host plant for the monarch butterfly, which has had a perilous population decline in recent years.

According to Chip Taylor from Monarch Watch, Asclepias viridis is the next most desired host plant for monarchs after common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). With importance to monarchs, showy flowers, exquisite seed pods, and a shorter stature and less weedy growth habit than common milkweed (perhaps making it more suitable for native landscaping), Asclepias viridis emerged as the best choice for this year’s KNPS Kansas Wildflower of the Year selection.

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Spider milkweed pods and leaves. Photo by Katy June Friesen.

Plants bestowed this honor must be a plant native to Kansas; may be common or rare; need not be of horticultural interest; and may be selected for emphasis on habitat. The purpose of selecting a Wildflower of the Year is to increase public awareness of native Kansas plants.

Spider milkweed (Asclepias viridis), also known as green antelopehorn, is 18 inches to 24 inches tall with green flowers showing May through July. It is found on dry prairies in the eastern two-thirds of the state with a substrate ranging from sand to limestone. An especially common species in prairie pastures, cattle do not find it palatable due to its production of toxic cardiac glycosides. The common names are given for the common presence of crab spiders hunting for insect prey around the flowers, and small antelope horn-like appearance of the seed pods. Previously belonging to the milkweed family (Asclepiadaceae,) the genus Asclepias is now classified in the subfamily Asclepiadoideae of the dogbane family (Apocynaceae.)

For more information about spider milkweed, see http://www.kansasnativeplantsociety.org/wfoy_2015.php.

Photos and information thanks to the Kansas Native Plant Society. See http://www.kansasnativeplantsociety.org/ for more information.


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