Submitted to: Association for the Advancement of Industrial Crops Conference
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: August 1, 2008
Publication Date: September 7, 2008
Citation: Harry O Kuru, R.E. 2008. The common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca): A new industrial crop [abstract]. Association for the Advancement of Industrial Crops Conference. p. 50. Technical Abstract: Asclepias syriaca L. (the common milkweed) is a perennial plant occurring east of the Rockies in the United States, but particularly east of the Mississippi River and from Southern Canada to Mexico. The plant has many unsavory given names by frustrated farmers including “the Wheat Farmers Nightmare.” The leaves of the plant are the veritable food source for monarch butterfly larvae which store the secondary metabolites of this plant, mainly cardenolides, for protection of the adult monarch butterfly from avian predation. Milkweed seed is adapted for wind dispersal by a fine tuft of hollow, silky fiber (floss). Use of milkweed floss as hypoallergenic filler in high-end pillows and comforters has made milkweed an industrial crop. Milkweed seed contains 20 to 30% oil; this oil is highly unsaturated. We have found the oil to be cardenolide-free and, thus, have epoxidized the olefinic bonds of the triglycerides as a platform intermediate to polyhydroxy triglycerides and other products. The polyhydroxy triglycerides have superior moisturizing capacity which makes them excellent candidates for skin/hair-care products. Both the oxiranes and polyhydroxy triglycerides have also been converted into novel UV-absorbing estolides by direct esterification with trans-4-hydroxy-3-methoxycinnamic acid. These unique properties of milkweed oil derivatives have potential in non-food industrial applications. Similarly, field trials of milkweed seed meal and seed pods have shown promise as a potent natural nematicide and a pesticide against fall army worms.