by Annette Aburdene
American Botanicals: Mid-Atlantic Native Plants
United States Botanic Garden
On exhibit through June 15th, 2014
Do not miss this exquisite exhibit that features original paintings and drawings of native plants and pollinators. In keeping with the current renaissance of botanical art, the artists recognize the need to inform and inspire people about why these plants matter.
DC resident CANDACE ABURDENE (Annette’s sister-in-law) is represented in the exhibit with her painting of the swamp milkweed Asclepias incarnata Apocynaceae (Dogbane family). Born and raised in Indiana along the shores of Lake Michigan, Candace has had a lifelong love of plants, nature, and gardening. Her beloved grandfather, an avid forager of edible plants, nurtured this love, while her mother encouraged her artistic talents. Candace developed a love of botanical art while living in London and when working as an interior designer. She now hopes to devote most of her time to botanical painting.
Candace found the swamp milkweed in bloom in Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens along the Anacostia River, and found plants in their seed stage at Nature by Design, a native plant nursery at 300 Calvert Avenue in Alexandria, Va. The plant can also be found along the park at the Georgetown waterfront. Pay close attention to the painting: it shows the milkweed beetle (genus Tetraopes) feasting on the plant.
According to the accompanying book, which in itself a beauty to behold, the swamp milkweed produces dense floral umbels of reddish-pink flowers in midsummer, and their delightful fragrance attracts a multitude of pollinators. The large seedpods, measuring up to five inches long and attractive in their own right, begin forming immediately after flowering. When the seeds are ripe, the pod opens to reveal a nest of silky hairs with the small brown seed attached.
Even a slight breeze carries the seeds away. This strong, upright perennial, which tends to grow in clumps and bloom in late to midsummer, reaches approximately three feet in height and prefers partial shade or full sun.
Swamp milkweed is a larval host for the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), as well as the Queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus). By feeding on the leaves that contain a milky, white toxic sap, the caterpillar becomes unpalatable to predators – a wonderful evolutionary defense for the butterfly. Native Americans used the flowering heads for food, the fiber to make twine, and the roots to treat kidney disorders.
Valuable in the garden for its appearance and its attractiveness to butterflies and hummingbirds, swamp milkweed is usually found in wet soil conditions, as indicated by its common name.
Annette Aburdene lives in Forest Hills and previously wrote about hiking the otherworldly Dolomites in Italy.