Narrow Leaf Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) is a flowering perennial herb that is found throughout the Western United States. It grows up to 1 meter tall, and has deep green leaves that can be whorled around the vertical stems. The flower clusters can be mostly white or lavender tinted and when the seed pods open white silky fibers attached to the seeds are dispersed by the wind (termed Anemochory). True to its name, a white milky sap will ooze from injured leaves or stems.
Reportedly, the native American Zuni tribe spun the silky seed fibers to into yarn to make fabric. The young pods and fleshy root tubers were reportedly eaten by the Anasazi. Some Native Americans also used the dry fibrous stems to make ropes and cords.
It is a valuable wildlife plant pollinated by butterflies, bees, and other insects. It also serves as a host plant for the larvae of the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), whose populations have suffered dramatic declines. If there are a few milkweed plants clustered together, it offers a great habitat for the young caterpillars and helps ensure that they will survive into adulthood.
As a garden plant, the Narrow Leaf Milkweed is an attractive pollinator-friendly plant that has low water requirements. It can be grown from seeds and germinate soon after planted. It is able to grow in variable climates and will thrive in many types of soil, wet, dry, sandy, or rocky and can even handle saline soil. The Narrow Leaf Milkweed does well near other flowering plants, which attracts the Monarch Butterflies, but it also frequently attracts aphids.
Photo Credit: Charles E. Jones