Desert Milkweed, Rush Milkweed, Ajamete
Asclepiadaceae, Milkweed Family
Southeastern California, southern Nevada, western Arizona, and northern Baja California and Sonora, Mexico
Mainly desert washes, also rocky slopes and plains
Living Desert Location:
MacDonald Butterfly Garden, Upper Colorado Garden
The oddly shaped pale yellow flowers provide generous amounts of nectar.
Desert milkweed is an interesting plant that has much potential in the garden. The clustered, leafless, grey-green stems reach to four feet high and nearly as wide. This plant is tolerant of drought, full sun and reflected heat, and provides an attractive vertical accent in the landscape. The desert milkweed also supports the life cycle of the milkweed butterflies, which include the Monarch, Queen and Soldier butterflies.
The milkweeds, known botanically as members of the genus Asclepias, have milky sap that contain toxic chemical compounds. These compounds make the plants bitter to herbivores; however, milkweed butterflies use them as larval food plants. The fascinating part is that as the caterpillars eat the milkweed they accumulate the toxic compounds in their bodies. These compounds, known as cardiac glycosides, make the caterpillars unpalatable to predators. Another interesting point is that the compounds are retained in the caterpillar for the rest of its life, even through metamorphosis! For this reason milkweed plants are a very important resource for the milkweed butterflies.
Distinctive two- to four-inch long seed pods split open while hanging on the plant ,releasing tufted seeds to be dispersed by the wind.