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Mexican Butterfly Weed Magic: Growing Asclepias curassavica at Home

The Asclepias curassavica, also known as the Mexican Butterfly Weed, Silkweed, and Tropical Milkweed, is a perennial herbaceous plant of the Apocynaceae family. It is shrub-like and can reach heights of 60-120 cm. The entire plant exudes a white sap. Its leaves are opposite, lanceolate, and entirely green. The inflorescence is an umbel with more […]

The Asclepias curassavica, also known as the Mexican Butterfly Weed, Silkweed, and Tropical Milkweed, is a perennial herbaceous plant of the Apocynaceae family.

It is shrub-like and can reach heights of 60-120 cm. The entire plant exudes a white sap. Its leaves are opposite, lanceolate, and entirely green.

The inflorescence is an umbel with more than ten flowers; the blooms are small and exquisite, with a corolla of deep red divided into five segments.

The corona is golden yellow, with horn-like projections, standing erect and pouch-shaped. When in full bloom, it presents a light and charming array of colors. The flowering season extends from spring to summer.

Asclepias curassavica

Native to the West Indies in Latin America, it was inadvertently introduced to Taiwan in the early years and has since become naturalized.

It is often found in gardens, at altitudes ranging from 10 to 500 meters, commonly seen in open spaces, at the edge of woods, or along roadsides.

It is primarily used for landscaping, flower beds, cut flowers, and as a potted plant. The entire Bloodflower plant is toxic, particularly its sap, which contains cardiac glycosides known as asclepiadin.

It has medicinal uses, including treating fevers, aiding menstruation and blood circulation, relieving pain, reducing inflammation, reducing swelling, and expelling parasites.

I. Morphological Characteristics

Asclepias curassavica

This perennial, upright herb can grow up to 80 cm tall and has a shrub-like appearance with white latex throughout the plant. The stems are light gray, either glabrous or slightly hairy.

The leaves are membranous, lanceolate to elliptic-lanceolate, 6-14 cm long, 1-4 cm wide, tapering to a short point or abruptly pointed at the tip, cuneate at the base, and extending to the petiole, either hairless or slightly hairy on the veins.

There are about eight lateral veins on each side. The petioles are 0.5-1 cm long. The inflorescence is a terminal or axillary umbel with 10-20 flowers. The calyx lobes are lanceolate and soft-haired.

The corolla is purple-red, with oblong segments 5 mm long and 3 mm wide, reflexed. The corona is yellow, spoon-shaped, five-segmented, with stalks, and has tongue-shaped lobes inside; the pollinia are oblong, pendulous, and attached to the reddish-purple stigmatic glands.

Asclepias curassavica

The follicles are lanceolate, 6-10 cm long, 1-1.5 cm in diameter, tapering at both ends; the seeds are ovate, about 6 mm long, 3 mm wide, with white, silky tufts at the tip; the comas are 2.5 cm long.

The flowering season is nearly year-round, with fruiting from August to December.

II. Growing Environment

This sun-loving plant is semi-hardy (tolerates temperatures above 0°C) and thrives in sunny, well-ventilated, warm, and dry environments, without specific soil requirements.

It prefers warm climates and does not tolerate frost. In cold regions, it can be grown as an annual. The plant requires moist, fertile soil, as it does not tolerate drought.

Therefore, the soil must be kept moist, and a balanced 20-20-20 fertilizer should be applied regularly. During cultivation, pinching can be employed to encourage branching and increase flowering.

III. Distribution Range

Originally from the West Indies in Latin America, it has now been naturalized in Taiwan and is widely cultivated in both tropical and subtropical regions around the world.

It is commonly found in gardens and has adapted to grow wild from the plains to low mountainous areas, at altitudes of about 10 to 500 meters, and thrives in areas at elevations from 250 to 2000 meters.

IV. Primary Value

Horticultural Ornamental

Primarily used for home garden planting, flowerbed cultivation, cut flowers, and potting, the plant known as Madar boasts aesthetic appeal for landscape greening.

However, caution is advised when handling Madar due to its toxicity, to prevent any adverse effects. Additionally, Madar serves as a butterfly-attracting plant.

Its leaves are the caterpillar’s food source, particularly favored by the caterpillars of the Birch Admiral butterfly; the flowers are an important source of nectar for insects.

Medicinal Value

The entire plant is toxic, especially the milky sap, which contains potent cardiac glycosides known as calotropin and can be used medicinally.

It has properties that dissipate pathogenic heat, promote urination, regulate menstruation and blood circulation, relieve pain, reduce fever, inflammation, swelling, and expel parasites.

Properties: Bitter; Cold; Toxic

Therapeutic Category: Heat-clearing agents; blood-activating agents

Indications: Clears heat and detoxifies; activates blood and stops bleeding; reduces swelling and relieves pain.

It’s used to treat tonsillitis, pneumonia, bronchitis, urinary tract inflammation, menstrual disorders, traumatic bleeding, sore throats, coughs due to lung heat, painful urinary dribbling, sores, eczema, ringworm, and traumatic bleeding.

It addresses bone-steaming fever, limb edema, painful urination, menstrual irregularities, tonsillitis, pneumonia, bronchitis, cystitis, fractures, carbuncles, hemostasis, and parasite expulsion.

Dosage and Administration: Orally: Decoction, 6-9g. Topically: Fresh plants are crushed for application, or dried plants are ground into powder for application.

Contraindications: To be used with caution. Not recommended for those with a weak constitution. The entire plant is toxic, with the white sap being particularly potent.

Symptoms of Poisoning and Remedies: Initial symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, followed by abdominal pain, diarrhea, restlessness, delirium, eventually leading to cold limbs, clammy sweat, pale complexion, irregular pulse, dilated pupils unresponsive to light, convulsions; subsequently progressing to coma, cardiac arrest, and death.

If the poison has not been expelled, induce vomiting, perform gastric lavage, and administer purgatives in the later stages; consume egg whites, vitamin C, and drink plenty of strong tea; administer atropine via intramuscular injection; administer glucose solution intravenously.

V. Growth and Propagation

Site Selection and Soil Preparation: Opt for soil with adequate depth or sandy loam, till the soil to a depth of 15-20cm, apply 1500-2000kg of well-rotted manure per acre, spread evenly, and form ridges.

Sowing and Transplanting: Direct sowing is mainly done by drilling, with a spacing of 20-25cm between holes, sowing 3-4 seeds per hole, at a depth of 1.5-2cm, covered with 1-1.5cm of soil, and gently firmed. Sow from late April to early May.

Under normal conditions (temperature above 15°C, soil moisture above 30%), sprouts emerge around 15 days with a germination rate of about 90%.

Seedlings can also be nurtured for later transplanting. Nurture seedlings from mid-March, transplant in early May with a spacing of 20-25cm, planting one seedling per hole.

VI. Pest and Disease Control

Root Rot: Apply a 500-600 times dilution of 50% carbendazim solution to the roots 1-2 times, 7-10 days apart. Crop rotation also plays a role in controlling root rot.

Aphids: A 800-1000 times dilution of 25% dimethoate emulsion can be used for spraying. Other insecticides may also be used but avoid organophosphates and pesticides with high residue levels.

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Founder of FlowersLib

Peggie was once a high school mathematics teacher, but she set aside her chalkboard and textbooks to follow her lifelong passion for flowers. After years of dedication and learning, she not only established a thriving flower shop but also founded this blog, “Flowers Library”. If you have any questions or wish to learn more about flowers, feel free to contact Peggie.

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