Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Whorled milkweed

with 44 comments

How convenient for a photographer: growing right at the edge of the path we walked on in Bastrop State Park on June 6th were some flowers whose structure yelled out “Milkweed!” Not recognizing the species, I later looked in Michael Eason’s Wildflowers of Texas, which led me to conclude the plant was whorled milkweed, Asclepias verticillata. Below is a closeup showing a developing seed pod, beyond which you can again make out the characteristic color of the iron-rich earth in Bastrop.

While preparing this post I realized that five years ago I showed a picture of a milkweed in New Mexico with a slightly different scientific name, Asclepias subverticillata.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 18, 2019 at 4:49 PM

44 Responses

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  1. Aside from their attracting Monarchs, I am fond of milkweeds for a variety of reasons. One relative, the Hemp Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) is host to my favorite beetle (not George although he was my favorite Beatle).

    Steve Gingold

    June 18, 2019 at 5:57 PM

    • I see why such an iridescent beetle is your favorite. As for the Beatles, I’ve read that they chose their name as a tribute to Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Speaking of which, the last time we were in Lubbock, two years ago, we visited the Buddy Holly Museum.

      As for milkweed, you may be aware that botanists have made the entire milkweed family a sub-family inside the dogbane family.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 18, 2019 at 6:17 PM

      • As a non-professional botanist…actually not really an amateur either since I only learn about what I see…I don’t get caught up in the constantly changing nomenclature. So I was not aware of that. I read initially after photographing the beetles that Dogbane was a Milkweed. Now Milkweed is a Dogbane. Maybe next year they will both be something entirely different. Shakespeare’s Juliet quote applies.

        Steve Gingold

        June 19, 2019 at 2:40 AM

        • All the recent botanical changes dog us and are our bane as we try to keep the classifications straight. The word bane comes from Old English bana, which meant ‘killer, destroyer.’

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 19, 2019 at 7:45 AM

  2. Is this the only post you will have on this or is there going to be a Whorled series?

    Jason Frels

    June 18, 2019 at 8:00 PM

  3. I am very impressed with your knowledge of botanical names. Great photos of the milkweed from the State Park, Steve!

    Peter Klopp

    June 18, 2019 at 8:44 PM

    • I never even took an elementary botany course in college, so, like others, I struggle trying to identify many of the things I find in nature. I’ll always be primarily a photographer, with everything else added on piecemeal. When it comes to scientific names, the three years of Latin I had in high school, and more years of linguistics in college and graduate school, help me out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 18, 2019 at 9:06 PM

      • Gratiam tibi ago, Steve. Didici linguam latinam novem annos. Latin has helped me as a German immigrant to Canada to survive my first year university at U of Calgary.

        Peter Klopp

        June 19, 2019 at 11:30 PM

        • Nine years: not many people have put in that much time learning Latin. I’m glad it helped you in Canada. Coincidentally, one of the last places we visited before flying home from Alberta to Austin in 2017 was the Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary.

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 19, 2019 at 11:42 PM

  4. I still can find it difficult to distinguish this milkweed from A. linearis. Both grow in this area, and seen side-by-side it’s not so hard, but they’re rarely found side-by-side. You no doubt know this handy guide to Texas milkweeds. I felt better when I looked at it again this morning and found this added note: “Asclepias linearis may be confused with A. verticillata, a species with whorled, narrow leaves 1.5 mm or less wide.”

    I think they’re both pretty, and lucky you to find a green pod. It does contrast nicely with the soil.


    June 19, 2019 at 6:34 AM

    • Obviously, I’m not yet prepared to tackle html this morning.


      June 19, 2019 at 6:37 AM

    • Yes, I’ve seen that handy guide to Texas milkweeds. While both of the milkweeds in question have linear leaves, fortunately for me (in terms of identification), only Asclepias verticillata grows in Bastrop. You’re fortunate (in terms of enjoyment and photography) to have both in your area. As for that svelte green pod, I’d like to see it when it gets to releasing its fluff.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 19, 2019 at 8:04 AM

  5. The seed pod against the ruddy background is especially fascinating. And the commentary is quite an education.

    Michael Scandling

    June 19, 2019 at 7:12 AM

    • I don’t often encounter the word ruddy, which works well in your comment. As for education, may it never end.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 19, 2019 at 8:07 AM

      • The word fits perfectly. And I’m with you on education.

        Michael Scandling

        June 19, 2019 at 8:10 AM

        • The original, literal meaning of the Latin verb ēducere was ‘to draw out, lead forth.’ Later the word added the figurative sense ‘to bring up, rear,’ and eventually ‘to train, educate.’

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 19, 2019 at 8:23 AM

  6. This is one of my favorite milkweeds. It is always fun to come across a different milkweed, isn’t it?


    June 19, 2019 at 8:34 AM

    • It is, and this is my latest milkweed. I hadn’t found a new species in a long time. Last week I came across Texas milkweed, which botanist Bill Carr says is “rare in and along margins of juniper-oak woodlands on rocky limestone slopes.” I typically encounter it once every few years, so I was happy, especially because even though it was in a rather dark area in the woods it had good light on it for me to take pictures.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 19, 2019 at 9:01 AM

  7. Usually I’m stirred to admiration by a milkshake, but this whorled one’s very attractive.

    Robert Parker

    June 19, 2019 at 9:44 AM

    • But not so attractive, I hope, as to make you stir-crazy. There’s a limit to how much shaking-up a person can take.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 19, 2019 at 9:52 AM

  8. This is beautiful, Steve. According to my plant guide, this occurs in the plains and high desert areas of Colorado, but I don’t remember ever seeing it before. Showy Milkweed is fairly common along the foothills, and I am happy to report that some followed our invitation to move into our yard. Still waiting for the first monarchs, though…🦋


    June 19, 2019 at 2:35 PM

    • I think the milkweed you’re referring to may be Asclepias subverticillata, because according to the USDA map Asclepias verticillata doesn’t range into Colorado.

      How gracious of the showy milkweed to take you up on your kind invitation. Now may the monarchs deign to follow.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 19, 2019 at 2:48 PM

  9. A lovely find.


    June 20, 2019 at 5:13 AM

    • Like New Zealand, only a lot smaller.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 20, 2019 at 5:23 AM

      • Ah, true.


        June 20, 2019 at 6:13 AM

        • Your two words suddenly called up in my mind a line from Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach.” It’s the line that begins the last stanza:

          “Ah, love, let us be true
          To one another! for the world, which seems
          To lie before us like a land of dreams,
          So various, so beautiful, so new,
          Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
          Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
          And we are here as on a darkling plain
          Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
          Where ignorant armies clash by night.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 20, 2019 at 6:23 AM

  10. It certainly looks native, with those narrow rosemary leaves. What we see in nurseries here has bigger and wider foliage of course.


    June 21, 2019 at 1:47 AM

    • Do nurseries sell any plant with linear leaves?

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 21, 2019 at 6:19 AM

      • Do mean just in regard to milkweed? I have never seen any. Even our native milkweed has wider leaves. I would expect narrow leaves out in the chaparrals or deserts.
        Milkweed happens to be a somewhat popular plant right now because of the ‘butterfly’ fad. Yet, those that are available are fancy garden varieties.


        June 22, 2019 at 2:52 PM

        • I’m not surprised that nurseries sell fancy garden varieties.

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 22, 2019 at 4:27 PM

          • It is what they do. Clients prefer prettier plants. Nurseries prefer plants that are not sustainable and will soon need to be replaced. Yet, such plants get marketed as sustainable and wildlife friendly just because that is what sells now.


            June 22, 2019 at 4:29 PM

  11. I’ve noticed flowers from the Asclepias genus almost always have a five point star-shaped form.


    June 21, 2019 at 8:22 PM

    • Asclepius was the hero and god of medicine in ancient Greek religion and mythology. He was the son of Apollo. Asclepius represents the healing aspect of the medical arts; his daughters were Hygieia (“Hygiene”, the goddess/personification of health, cleanliness, and sanitation), Iaso (the goddess of recuperation from illness), Aceso (the goddess of the healing process), Aegle (the goddess of the glow of good health), and Panacea (the goddess of universal remedy).The rod of Asclepius, a snake-entwined staff, remains a symbol of medicine today.Those physicians and attendants who served this god were known as the Therapeutae of Asclepius.


      June 21, 2019 at 8:34 PM

      • Many of the characters in Greek mythology are actually personified attributes. For example, the name Panacea comes from pan ‘all’ and akos ‘cure.’

        Steve Schwartzman

        June 21, 2019 at 11:30 PM

    • Yes, the genes of Asclepias speak in fives. It’s an innate arithmetic.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 21, 2019 at 11:15 PM

  12. Those milkweeds are always recognizable, aren’t they? And they’re great subjects. I like the subtle colors of this one.


    July 3, 2019 at 7:10 PM

    • Yes, the family is recognizable, and I’m grateful for that as a headstart in figuring out what species I’ve come across. This milkweed’s flowers are off-white, as opposed to one I’ll have coming up in a while that’s pure white.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 3, 2019 at 10:01 PM

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