What is Asclepiadaceae?

Milkweed can be used to treat rattlesnake bites.

The plant family Asclepiadaceae, also known as the milkweed family, is believed to consist of about 280 genera and 2,000 species of flowering shrubs and herbs. Plants in the milkweed family typically produce five-petaled flowers and white sap. The seeds of these plants normally form in pods, and most plants produce puffy seeds that are blown away by the wind when the mature pods burst open. Members of the Asclepiadaceae family are often grown as ornamentals and some may be known as weeds.

The plant family Asclepiadaceae has been used for the treatment of ringworm.

Plants in the Asclepiadaceae family are commonly known as milkweed because they often produce a white, sticky sap that resembles milk. Most species produce symmetrical five-petaled flowers. In some species, the flowers can be quite colorful and attractive. Most plants in the Asclepiadaceae family produce pod fruits, filled with tiny seeds. The silky tufts of these seeds usually catch the wind when the mature pod splits open, scattering the seeds in the breeze.

All types of milkweed are toxic, producing a sticky, milky sap in the stems and leaves that can be irritating to the skin.

Some species in this plant family depend on flies to pollinate them. Species such as carrion flower, or Aclepias Huernia, and hoodia, or Asclepias stapelia, typically attract fly pollinators by excreting fetid odors reminiscent of decaying meat. These aromatics can attract the flies that pollinate these plants. Other species, however, produce fragrances that are considered pleasant, such as Stephanotis floribunda or Madagascar jasmine.

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Familiar members of the Asclepiadaceae family may include the showy milkweed or Asclepias speciosa. The showy milkweed is considered a relatively common wildflower in North America. It is believed that Native Americans used the fibrous stems of this plant to produce rope, twine, and cloth. Native peoples may have considered some parts of this plant edible, and it is believed that the sap of the showy milkweed was once used to make chewing gum. It was used medicinally to treat rattlesnake bites, cuts, burns, ringworm, and warts, among other conditions.

Showy milkweed can be found growing wild in most parts of North America. Some gardeners also grow this wildflower as a garden feature. Gardeners often appreciate the plant’s purple and pink flowers and find it hardy and easy to care for. The showy milkweed has a reputation for attracting butterflies and bees to the garden.

Other species in the Asclepiadaceae family, such as the pitcher plant, or Dischidia rafflesiana, and the wax flower, or Hoya carnosa, are also popular as outdoor garden plants and potted indoor plants. Many species are hardy and productive, colorful and fragrant flowers that attract butterflies, bees and birds to the garden.

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