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Monday, September 5, 2011

Milkweed Silk

Milkweed flourish worldwide and derive their common name from the milky juice released when injured. Centuries-long, folk-medicinal uses inspire its Latin genus asclepias, after the Greek god of healing, Asclepius.

On the Llano Estacado the drought-tolerant Broadleaf Milkweed, asclepias latifolia, dominates. This milkweed produces seeds in pod-like structures called follicles. When ripe the follicles dehisce, that is, they burst open along the ventral suture. This exposes overlapping rows of seeds. Each seed includes numerous silky, white filaments of pappus to promote dispersal on even the lightest breath of prairie wind. The filaments are hollow and have a waxy coating, which gives them insulation qualities equal to down feathers. Milkweed silk is an excellent hypoallergenic pillow filling.

The aesthetic qualities of milkweed silk illuminated by sunlight outweigh its practical uses. Its wispy seeds dancing on prairie breezes conjure fantasies of gossamer-winged, mythical fairies.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

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