Yesterday I'm jogging along when I come across a stand of these plants:
I figure with that large, green, spikey cone thingy, it should be easy to identify this plant.
Not so. No amount of Google FU would bring up images of a picture of a weed with that funky cone flower thingy. I decided to go another route, and searched by the type of leaf. After looking at a leaf identification guide I decided to search for "Opposite Oblong Leaf." I scrolled through pages of images but had no luck. Finally, I narrowed my search by checking just Virgina Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences site. They have a weed guide there, but not obvious way to search it. So, Google Images to the rescue. I searched for:
in Google Images. Unfortunately, none of the images had any resemblance to what I saw, except for this guy:
It was a long shot, but what the heck, it doesn't hurt to check out the page hosting the image.
I clicked through and found myself on the Common Milkweed page and as I scrolled down, I saw pictures that exactly matched the cone like structure I saw. Whoo! I had an ID. Apparently, the term I was after was "pod" or "seedpod" not cone. Oh well.
This was actually an exciting find for a number of reasons. First, I finally solved the puzzle of what the heck this thing is, and second, Milkweed is supposedly a terrifically valuable plant.
Backyard Foraging recommended it by saying something along the lines of:if you're going to eat only one wild edible, make it Milkweed (the book is back at the library, so I can't get the exact quote). More details on eating the plant can be found here both eat Milkweed. It's also handy for fire making and rope making among other outdoorsy uses. The The Old Farmer's Almanac lists a number of other interesting facts about Milkweed, including that the "floss" was used to stuff Life Jackets during World War II when other materials were in short supply.
I challenge you to read the above links and not get excited about this find!