January 03, 2004
The above photo was taken late last November and shows a common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) in the act of bursting, disseminating its seeds over this Illinois prairie. This plant has dull purplish flowers, which bloom during the summer months. Backlit, the fibers of milkweed look like true silk.
Carl von Linne (Linneaeus), the father of modern plant taxonomy, first described common milkweed for science in the mid-1700s. Interestingly, he erroneously assigned the plant the specific epithet "syriaca" since he thought that the specimens he examined had been carried to Europe from the Orient, rather than from eastern North America. Even though this is an obvious misnomer, in botany, a name first used to describe a valid species is unchangeable, regardless of errors in derivation or spelling.