Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Candy Floss Flower

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

I've seen this flower in a couple of places in the Don. This one I found growing at the Elevated Wetlands. A member of the milkweed family, it is usually found growing beside ponds, marshes or other wet areas.

I call it the candy floss flower because the scent reminds me of that sweet fragrance of candy floss which is one of the aromas from my childhood, a fond remembrance of our family's annual trek to the CNE in August. I was wondering about this particular scent and did some investigation. The active ingredient is linalool which is a naturally occurring chemical that is used in perfumes. One study found that inhaling linalool can reduce stress. That makes sense since it is a very pleasant aroma.

Not many studies have specifically studied this species but there are several references in studies of the milkweed family since this plant shares characteristics with similar plants in the genera such as Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa). Unless you are an asclepiadologist(!), such things as self-pollination success, pollen grain coherence, and sympatrically flowering systems won't interest you.

The one thing that most people will relate to is that the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) needs plants like this to survive. It feeds on the nectar, lays its eggs on the leaves, and the caterpillar feeds on the leaves. Since this species appears to be in decline it is important to leave this plant where you find it and take away only the memories of the fragrance.

Monarch Butterfly on a Swamp Milkweed at the Don Valley Brick Works (I wonder if it can smell the flower?)


Anonymous said...
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Helen said...

I love the scent of common milkweed, but haven't seen the swamp milkweed often enough to know how similar (or different) the fragrance is. Am big proponent of the "leave nothing but footprints" philosophy... except when it comes to invasive plants like dog-strangling vine or garlic mustard.