Asclepias syriaca (Common Milkweed)

Plant Info
Also known as: Silkweed, Milkplant
Genus:Asclepias
Family:Apocynaceae (Dogbane)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:native
Habitat:part shade, sun; wet or dry fields, along shores, edges of woods
Bloom season:June - August
Plant height:2 to 5 feet
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Cluster type: round

[photo of flowers] 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: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] 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.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod Fruit type: seed with plume

[photo of fruit] Bumpy green pods about 5 inches long containing many flat, brown seeds, each with a papery wrapping and fuzzy parachute attached.

[photo of seed] Seeds are arranged in layers like fish scales. When the pod splits open the seeds separate and are carried away by the wind.

Notes:

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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More photos

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.

Comments

Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Diana - Minneapolis
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.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2010-10-01 09:52:32

LOL, 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.

Posted by: Paul
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!

Posted by: Sonia - NE Minneapolis
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.

Posted by: Desdamona - Roseville
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. :-)

Posted by: Libby - Mound
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?

Posted by: Jill - Itasca County, Highway 1 east of Effie at entrance to Bass L
on: 2011-08-09 12:08:52

We have it here, even if it's not on the county list from USDA!

Posted by: artem - Isanti
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.

Posted by: Theresa - Duluth
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.

Posted by: Pat - Minnetrista/Mound
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.

Posted by: Liz - Eden Prairie
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?

Posted by: K. Chayka
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.

Posted by: echoegami - St Paul
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.

Posted by: Shirley - Minneapolis
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?

Posted by: K. Chayka
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.

Posted by: T Redfield - Fridley
on: 2014-08-15 13:46:49

Interested in having a few plant in our garden. Where can they be purchased?

Posted by: K. Chayka
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.

Posted by: N. Hassett - Sand Dunes State Forest
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?

Posted by: K. Chayka
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.

Posted by: sandra - Isanti county mn.
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.

Posted by: K. Chayka
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.

Posted by: Kim - Chanhassen
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!

Posted by: Gary - Good Thunder
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.

Posted by: T. Elmer - Minnetonka
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.

Posted by: G. Stout - Little Canada
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.

Posted by: K. Chayka
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.

Posted by: Amy - Big Lake
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!

Posted by: K. Chayka
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.

Posted by: Greta - south of the Twin Cities
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!

Posted by: K. Chayka
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

Posted by: Kate - Mora
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.

Posted by: James - Pine City
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.

Posted by: K. Chayka
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.

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