Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for July 14th, 2012

Guest post 1: common milkweed

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Can I submit a guest post on my own blog? Sure, why not? It’s my blog and I’ll make the rules.

Here’s what I’m getting at. I spent the last week of June and the first week of July in the Northeast, primarily in the states of New York and Massachusetts. Although I grew up on Long Island (New York), my knowledge of native plants began decades later, in Texas, so whenever I visit the Northeast I feel like a stranger in a strange land, botanically speaking. The purpose of my recent trip was primarily to see family and friends, but I did take my camera and a couple of lenses with me, and on a few occasions—very few—I used them. The pictures you’ll see for the next week or so are the fruits of my limited picture-taking, all of it in Massachusetts.

Recent viewers of these pages have seen that the most widespread milkweed in central Texas is Asclepias asperula, known as antelope-horns, and early readers of this blog also had a look at Asclepias viridiflora, or wand milkweed. In addition to those and some other local species, I’d read about Asclepias syriaca, which doesn’t grow in Austin but is quite common in other parts of the country. In fact it’s known as common milkweed, and I saw lots of it along roadsides during my trip to the Northeast. This view is from June 27 at the Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox, Massachusetts. (More text follows the picture.)

Click for greater clarity.

If you’re as puzzled about the species name syriaca as I am, given that this plant is native to North America and not Syria, here’s what I found in The Secrets of Wildflowers, by Jack Sanders:

It’s no accident that the generic name, Asclepias, comes from Asclepius, the Greek hero of the medical arts. On the other hand, syriaca, meaning “of Syria,” is probably an accident. This species is a native of America. Perhaps Linnaeus mistook the country of origin while classifying and naming the plant in 1753. Or perhaps the plant had already been imported to Syria for a crop experiment, and Linnaeus examined a specimen that had come from there. The rules of taxonomy require that the first name applied to a plant, even if based on mistaken assumptions, is the proper name. Some authorities haven’t accepted this, preferring to use Asclepias cornuti, which was concocted in 1844. Cornuti means “horned,” probably referring to the shape of the flower crowns.

And so mistakes become enshrined (but if you point out any that you find in my posts, I’ll gladly unenshrine them).

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 14, 2012 at 5:58 AM

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