Asclepias syriaca (Common Milkweed)
|Also known as:||Silkweed, Milkplant|
|Habitat:||part shade, sun; wet or dry fields, along shores, edges of woods|
|Bloom season:||June - August|
|Plant height:||2 to 5 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: UPL MW: FACU NCNE: UPL|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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2-inch round clusters arising from leaf axils in the upper plant. Individual flowers are ½ inch across with a 5-parted crown and 5 downward-curved petals. Flower color ranges from dull pale pink to deep mauve, the tips of the star-shaped crown often cream colored.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are up to 8 inches long and 3 inches wide, generally oval to oblong with a point at the tip and a short stalk, oppositely attached, toothless and softly hairy on the underside. The prominent midrib is creamy white to pink; the side veins on the leaf surface are all connected and do not extend to the edge of the leaf, creating a border effect all around the edge. Stems are hairy to varying degrees and unbranched.
Bumpy green pods about 5 inches long containing many flat, brown seeds, each with a papery wrapping and fuzzy parachute attached.
Seeds are arranged in layers like fish scales. When the pod splits open the seeds separate and are carried away by the wind.
All Asclepias were formerly in family Asclepiadaceae but have been reassigned to Apocynaceae (Dogbane). Common Milkweed can be weedy, producing many offspring and crowding out other plants. This made it a noxious weed (i.e. agricultural pest) in some MN counties. One or two volunteered in my own back yard a few years. The next year a dozen more were sprouting up. I've since yanked it out and have Swamp Milkweed (Aslepias incarnata) taking its place, and lots of Monarch caterpillars calling my back yard home.
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Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken along Highway 61 just north of Duluth, and in Anoka County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?
on: 2010-09-27 22:04:41
Is this a noxious weed because it takes over? I thought I should keep it in my front yard in NE Mpls for the Monarchs, but I kept taking it out because it crawled everywhere. (I also had aesclepius tuberosa - much more mild mannered.) In the end, I moved. It's still there.
on: 2010-10-01 09:52:32
LOL, Diana, did you move to get away from it? :-)
Yes, common milkweed can be a pretty prolific breeder and I believe it is an agricultural pest plant in some areas. I have some in my back yard now that started out as 1 plant a few years ago (seed dropped there by some critter, I imagine) and now it's over a dozen plants and spreading. Time for me to take some action myself so it doesn't crowd out the other natives growing in that corner.
on: 2010-11-04 14:40:17
Please take the time to smell the milkweed. A warm, humid early morning in August is best. Marsh milkweed is even better. I have put amazement in the hearts of many by having them take a sniff. And they thought it was just a weed!
on: 2011-05-31 11:32:27
Personally, I let this plant grow where it wants in my low-maintenance forest floor garden in NE Minneapolis. It is an attractive plant (in my opinion) and easy enough to pull when young if it's popping up somewhere it's not welcome. I don't find it too invasive. I encourage people to let at least a few plants grow in their yards so the monarch butterflies have a place to lay their eggs. It's such a delight when you notice a little yellow-striped caterpillar has taken up residence on your milkweed plant! Up North at my cabin they started mowing the ditches along the roadsides and completely eradicated the milkweed that grew in those limited sunny areas. I've since noticed I see far less monarchs up there around the lake, when they used to be plentiful.
on: 2011-07-02 12:02:21
I had this in my garden last summer, I pulled it out and got attacked by bees. This summer I have no Milkweed, no bees, and no butterflies. I guess this is what I deserve. Now I'm picking some patches to allow and plant native. Maybe nature will forgive me and come back to grace my vegetable garden. :-)
on: 2011-07-13 21:21:18
I HAVE MILKWEED IN MY PRAIRIE GARDEN IN MOUND, MN. I CULTIVATE IT. I'VE READ THAT IT HAS MEDICINAL VALUE. ANYONE KNOW ABOUT THIS?
on: 2011-08-09 12:08:52
We have it here, even if it's not on the county list from USDA!
on: 2012-06-22 19:37:46
I have about 6 acrs of this plant in my back yard bee's love it. Smells good! I will let it spread for my honey bees.
on: 2012-08-23 15:41:12
I have a patch of this growing in a gravelly area of my yard. I've tried transplanting it to other areas but it doesn't do well in the clay soils. On the good side, I counted 23 monarch caterpillers and dozens of butterflies of several species on it just after the flood.
on: 2013-06-29 19:53:31
I too have this in my Minnetrista/Mound garden. It does spread and grows fast. I was quite surprised when I saw it this spring. I have about twelve gardens on the property and must have missed it last year. Can't miss it this year but I want to watch to see if I can see the caterpillars on it. Haven't seen Monarchs for several years - hopefully if I keep it they'll come back.
on: 2013-07-10 16:45:29
I've got a great big lot, and no milkweed. Where can I get seeds or starter plants? Any advice on best planting locations and how much room I should give them?
on: 2013-07-11 06:38:12
Liz, see "where to buy native seeds and plants" that is on almost every page of this web site. The vendor can tell you which species would work best in your particular soil/sun/moisture conditions.
on: 2014-07-10 10:11:39
I grow milkweed on purpose. I love the flowers which smell like lilacs but better, imho. This year I've seen at three separate monarch caterpillars munching on the milkweeds and many monarch butterflies visiting my yard. I also have two butterfly weeds growing in my yard (brilliant orange flowers, so beautiful!) and the monarchs love them, too.
on: 2014-08-06 14:24:07
I have 3 milkweed plants under my bird feeders. How do I find out if It is the kind where eggs are laid?
on: 2014-08-06 19:01:07
Shirley, Monarchs will lay eggs on pretty much any species of milkweed. Milkweeds are great plants for other insects, too. Pollinators of all sorts feed on their nectar.
on: 2014-08-15 13:46:49
Interested in having a few plant in our garden. Where can they be purchased?
on: 2014-08-15 16:06:46
T Redfield, see "Where to buy native seed and plants" that's on nearly every page of the website, including this one, or see the map. Several species of milkweed should be available from many native plant nurseries, common milkweed is just one choice. The vendor can tell you what would be suitable for your growing conditions.
on: 2014-09-09 20:52:47
I thought I had common milkweed in my garden and started letting them grow after reading of their importance to monarch butterflies. I've had doubts that they were really milkweed plants because it's now early September and they have not blossomed, let alone go to seed. But I'm pretty sure after looking at images that they are, indeed, milkweed. Any suggestions on why they aren't blossoming?
on: 2014-09-10 06:08:24
N. Hassett, we have a number of first-year milkweed plants in our yard that didn't bloom this year, but likely will next. Keep your eye on them.
on: 2014-12-16 19:10:51
We saw flight of the butterflys at the science museum today. What a beautiful movie. It was also sad, I cried. We planted milk weed last summer and plan on planting more next summer. We just had a few monarchs last year. hope to have more next year. Someone gave us some seeds and will plant them as soo as the warm weather comes. s.e.r.
on: 2014-12-17 05:44:45
Sandra, it might actually be better to plant your seeds now (December) rather than in spring. Many plants require over-wintering before they'll germinate so if you wait until warm weather comes it could be another year before anything sprouts.
on: 2015-02-11 10:13:43
I have been cultivating milkweed for several years where ever it will grow. We have dozens of Monarch butterflies and caterpillars every year because of this. It is one of the only plants that Monarchs will lay their eggs on. In the fall I remove the pods and take them on walks with me and scatter the seeds. Now I have milkweed growing in many areas along my walk route and thus see alot of Monarchs. I encourage everyone to nurture and treasure this valuable "weed" wherever they find it!
on: 2015-02-14 19:17:18
I spend a lot of time walking the rivers and woods. Photography is what I do and I have seen all these milkweed plants. The one thing I do not see is any Monarch butterfly's or any kind of Butterfly's. Reading all the info.you have here I will be looking real close by taking a lot of macro pictures.
on: 2015-02-21 08:23:42
Anyone know how milkweed does against buckthorn? Even if the milkweed gets a little of control, sounds like it's easier to control.
on: 2015-03-12 13:17:03
We have several mature black walnut trees in our yard, and wonder if milkweed would survive amongst them - the yard has morning sun only. Also, I have collected several milkweed seed pods and wonder what is the best way to start germinating these seeds. We'd like to see more Monarch butterflies in our neighborhood.
on: 2015-03-12 18:47:05
Poke milkweed is the most shade-tolerant of the MN milkweeds so you might try that in shadier places rather than common milkweed. For common milkweed, just toss the seed around where you want them to grow. Fall planting is best for a lot of species but common milkweed should take off without it. I suggest planting now (today!), since we have no snowpack left and the ground is thawing, but we may still have sufficient cold weather in the coming weeks to do some amount of cold-moist stratification.
on: 2015-05-06 18:11:01
I'm trying to find milkweed or the seeds to plant for the Monarch's. Does anyone live anywhere near me that wants to thin theirs out? I could try transplanting in my yard. Or if you know where I can find it or seeds. Thank you so much!
on: 2015-05-06 22:46:37
Amy, see "where to buy native seeds and plants" that's on almost every page of the website.
on: 2015-05-11 10:01:20
Is it too late to plant Milkweed? I was looking at ordering seeds but it says 30 days of cold stratification. By the time I'd plant it would be mid-June. Is that ok or should I just order and plant in the fall? Thanks so much!
on: 2015-05-12 04:44:54
Greta, fall planting would be better but that shouldn't stop you. If they don't bloom this year, they should next
on: 2015-05-12 17:40:52
I am wondering if we can transplant milkweed from a wild setting (we have a source) to a school garden? I'm thinking this would be a good time of the year. Does the milkweed have a tap root? Should we dig deeply? Also, should we plant a cluster, such as three plants together? Our school garden is not big, however, we want to plant flowers to attract butterflies, in particular, monarchs. Thank you for your help.
on: 2015-05-14 22:29:00
There are a lot of monarch butterfly organizations that will send you seeds for free - or for small donation to handle shipping. I ordered my seeds from livemonarch.com http://www.livemonarch.com/free-milkweed-seeds.htm seedlings sprouted this week.
on: 2015-05-15 05:28:58
Kate, if your garden is not big you should shy away from common milkweed. It spreads vegetatively and you may find it taking over the whole space. Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incata) is better behaved as long as you prevent it from reseeding (cut off the pods before they're ripe), and it's great for many pollinators, not just monarchs. It will grow in average to moist soil.
on: 2015-07-05 16:09:08
Where can I purchase milkweed seed locally here in St. Paul?
on: 2015-07-15 19:20:17
I am a certified wildlife habitat on a 1/3 acre lot in Columbia Heights. I have alot of the common milkweed. It has a wonderful scent. I have butterflies not only because of flowers but our Minnesota prairie flowers that so many call weeds.Queen Annes Lace is another plant for butterflies.I tell people who want milkweed to feel free to stop and pick some pods of seeds.But always leave some for others. Milkweed doesn't even need to be planted...just scatter the seeds.For those who worry about too much; simple solution: just pull it out.
on: 2015-07-15 19:38:41
Georgene, I would not intentionally plant Queen Anne's lace - it readily escapes cultivation and can be quite invasive. There are native plants in the carrot family that would serve just as well, such as golden alexanders.
on: 2016-05-28 21:35:33
We have tons of it. I'm leaving as much as I can to attract pollinators. It's easy to pull up, so I don't see a problem with it. We don't use glyphosphate, so there it is.
on: 2016-07-29 10:50:10
Question! I have milkweed traveling around my yard. In the grass, gardens, driveway anywhere it wants to go. My question is how late in the year will monarch butterflies use this plant, before I mow it down and make it go back in the gardens, where it belongs?
on: 2016-07-29 13:17:41
Rick, check the underside of leaves for eggs or signs of caterpillars feeding on them. The eggs look like small white dots, typically only 1 per leaf.
on: 2016-08-16 17:10:19
Two questions on milkweed. 1. Does common milkweed produce pods in the first year of growth? 2. I am trying to identify a plant that looks like milkweed. It has a little smaller leaves, grows with a branched habit, and has a milky sap. Right now it has no flowers or pods.
on: 2016-09-11 16:37:21
Peter, to answer your first question, common milkweed does not produce pods on the first year, they should the second or third year. Also, an answer to your second question- it probably is milkweed, but is only on its first year of growth.
on: 2017-03-18 19:24:38
I got my seeds from the pods on my brothers plants. When they begin to open, just pick them and save for next springs planting. That's what I'm doing. Will let you know how it works out.
on: 2017-07-27 14:36:43
In my refrigerator I have Common Milkweed Seeds harvested last year. Can they be planted this late in the season? Are they likely to be viable next year?
on: 2017-07-27 15:05:51
Jill, mid-summer is not a good time to plant. Plant seeds in the fall. You should get seedlings coming up the following spring.
on: 2018-07-21 17:47:41
It has a lovely scent--much like lilacs. I was walking, and the scent drifted my way in the wind.
on: 2019-02-27 09:54:13
Are we sure this milkweed is native? Carl Linnaeus, father of taxonomy binomial nomenclature, suggested not, hence the name syriaca, for Eurasia (Fernald, M. L. (1987). I tend to agree with Linnaeus and Fernald, both huge influences on my taxonomy. I guess if it's native or not is based on convenience whether than science, and since we may never know for sure, what does this say about science? Just say no to "reductionist" science in complex systems (e.g. ecosystems)?
Fernald, M. L. 1987. Gray's manual of botany: a handbook of the flowering plants and ferns of the central and northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. Dioscorides Press.
on: 2019-02-27 10:11:41
Stephen, here is an explanation for the misleading syriaca epithet (pdf) from a botany professor. So I think there is no real reason to consider it introduced to North America.
on: 2019-04-09 21:22:29
I am allergic to latex, and have therefore been told to avoid exposure to milkweed. But now I realize there are several different types of milkweed; so, should I avoid *all* milkweed, or just certain types?
on: 2019-04-09 21:50:56
Therese, all milkweeds have milky sap, as do other members of the dogbane family.
on: 2019-06-09 07:16:42
I have noticed that the national range map from 2013 shows that most all counties in Mn. Show it as a NOXIOUS WEED...that has certainly changed by now...hasn't it???
on: 2019-06-09 08:18:11
Kenny, we have no control over the national map. The reason common milkweed shows as noxious is due to ancient MN Dept of Ag county-level weed lists. At one time it was considered an agricultural pest in some counties, but round-up ready crops pretty much took care of it. The 2013 national map still uses that ancient data but I believe BONAP has since updated it.
on: 2019-06-12 19:12:55
I just bought this unaware that it is considered an invasive species. If that's the case, why is it a retail item? Just curious. My real question is, will it grow neat a black walnut tree?
on: 2019-06-12 20:12:40
Twanna, it is not an invasive species. It is native, but can be a little aggressive in cultivation so you might need to manage it more than some other species. In either case, it is a great pollinator plant and of course, a host for monarch butterflies. And it smells wonderful.
on: 2019-07-21 15:47:06
I'd like to introduce milk weed into the side hill in my back yard. Can I dig up a few milk weed plants from along the side of the road and transport them to my home to be transplanted?
on: 2019-07-21 16:43:17
Jay, please do not take plants from the wild, even from roadsides. Instead, buy seed or potted plants from a reputable native plant nursery.
on: 2020-02-08 08:42:22
Hi K. Nomenclature day, came across your post 02/27/19, from a botany professor, no real reason to consider it introduced to North America. Upon analysis, data provided can be interpreted to support my original point. We would do well to remember it's not the data that's science, but instead it's the interpretation. Evidence provided here can be interpreted in several ways. As a scientist, I'm still open as to whether it's native or not, and that might come down to Holling's classic complex social-ecological response, it depends. Remember too, our sacred taxonomy is merely a social abstraction and not reality, as we taxonomist too often believe . Forward and onward.
on: 2020-03-23 05:33:35
Was a common plant in the grasslands around here before housing moved in. This species spreads underground so it is not suited for small gardens. Before the dog park was put in Burnsville the area had many pale to near white flowering plants growing with Stiff Goldenrod. In the fall the air would be filled with snow-like fuzz as thousands of plants release their seeds.
on: 2020-09-21 12:12:47
I put it in a pan with some butter, yum!!
on: 2021-06-14 17:07:16
That's too bad that you didn't keep this excellent plant in your garden. The leaves of this milkweed are actually the best food for monarch's caterpillars, even better than butterfly milkweed. However, it's still nice that you planted swamp milkweed which is equally good for monarchs.
on: 2021-07-20 01:14:37
There's a small population of Asclepias syriaca plants [complete with Monarch caterpillers] growing along the south end of the chain link fence surrounding a baseball field just down the street from my house. I've seen them there for years. A few weeks ago, a worker came to mow the baseball field lawn. We talked a bit, then I pointed out the Milkweed plants. He chose to leave the Milkweed patch alone, for the benefit of the Monarch butterflies. Some plants are damaged from baseball games, but most survive.
on: 2021-07-23 15:40:53
About 10 yrs ago 1 plant popped up in my yard and I now have at least 50. I had a couple of monarchs and in the last 5 yrs between 12-25. This year the plants grew over 5 feet tall! I live in town and this year I was told I have to cut them down. Is there someplace I can get some legal document that says that it is a wildflower and not a weed.? Thank you!
on: 2021-07-23 19:40:08
Mary, unfortunately there is no legal document to be had. Different cities have different weed ordinances, many putting restrictions on height especially where it might affect line-of-sight from a traffic perspective. Others are just anal in their desires for pristine turf grass lawns. You can take your case up with the city council and try to convince them of the benefits to native pollinators and monarch butterflies in particular. Get your neighbors on board and you'll have a better chance to win the city over. Maybe you can reach a compromise.
on: 2022-06-26 11:47:24
There's some growing in a lovely patch full of other wildflowers, down the road from the St Louis Park Library and a public park.
on: 2023-02-17 11:09:56
I have an abandoned 1.75-acre hayfield that is reverting back to mostly native wildflowers plus woody shrubs and native herbaceous species which I've planted. Last summer (2022) I did a census of the milkweed and counted about 1,500 flowering and non-flowering Asclepias syriaca stems. I've noticed the growth is better where the soil is more fertile and moist. Besides monarch butterflies, the milkweeds attract a huge number of insect species that spend at least part of their lifecycle on this species either as visitors or obligate feeders.