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Flora Fact

Milky Pearl

Unusual blooms surround a pearl center and attract monarchs.


Some Texas natives boast showy, colorful flowers that shout “Look at me!” from a distance. Others are shy beauties that twine and blossom in camouflage with their surroundings. One such bashful bloom worth the search is the pearl milkweed vine (Matelea reticulata).

Blooming just a bit later than the native antelope horn milkweed that feeds scores of monarch caterpillars each spring, pearl milkweed vine also has a very different look. Rather than popping up in open fields and roadsides, these tiny beauties grow on vines that twine up fences, shrubs and trees in Central, South and West Texas.

Large heart-shaped leaves accompany small green blossoms shaped like stars, defining characteristics of the Matelea family of milkvines that differ from their milkweed cousins, the Asclepias family (such as antelope horn milkweed).

While also called green milkweed vine or netted (or net vein) milkvine, this native is best known by its “pearl” moniker, describing the perfect, iridescent orb in the center. Combined with its color, white veining and shape, the pearl makes this flower look otherworldly, almost alien.

Like most milkweeds and milkvines, pearl milkweed vine oozes out a white milky sap when a leaf is broken off. Also like its cousins, this beauty produces a huge seed pod with fleshy spikes in late summer, full of fluff to fly off and disperse lots of seeds.

A similar native plant is plateau milkvine, endemic to the Edwards Plateau. Lacking the pearl at the center, the flowers are more bell shaped than flat (blooming a bit earlier), and the leaves have a wavy edge. Both the plateau and pearl varieties are host plants for monarchs and queens.

Pearl milkweed dies back every winter. Though beloved by naturalists and gardeners, it’s not widely available in nurseries. The plant is unfazed by drought, freezing temperatures and deer.

 Steven Schwartzman

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