I want to share a cautionary tale from my mother, who is a native plant gardener and Wild Ones member in Kentucky. Earlier this week, she cut some tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica). Shortly afterwards, her eyes began to burn, and her vision gradually got blurry. By the time she went to the ophthalmologist the next morning, the only letter she could read on the eye chart was the big “E” at the top.
Apparently milkweed sap can cause chemical burns on the cornea, and the eye doctor said it can take from a few days to a couple of weeks to clear up. I knew milkweed sap tasted bad to birds and animals, but had never heard of it having such severe effects just to touch. It sounds like this is true for most milkweeds, but Tropical Milkweed seems to be worse. Mom’s is beautiful and it has attracted monarchs (www.bettyhallphotography.com/blog/2011/07/tropical-milkweed/), so she’s not sure what she’ll do with it now.
Here are a couple of websites with people discussing similar experiences:
Milkweeds are great and I don’t want to scare anyone away from them, but I will certainly be more careful handling them in the future.