Asclepias purpurascens (Purple Milkweed)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Apocynaceae (Dogbane)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:Midwest to Mid-Altantic US
Habitat:part shade, sun; fields, thickets, open woods, along shores
Bloom season:June - July
Plant height:2 to 3 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
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] Flowers are about 1/3 inch across and about ½ inch long, with 5 petals angled down and out with tips pointing up, deep purple throughout though can exhibit lighter shades to pink. The 5 hoods are light pink to rose to purple, more than twice as tall as the flower center column. Horns also pink to rose, short, flat and curved in over flower center. Up to 6 round flower clusters 2½ to 3 inches wide are at the top of the plant and terminal leaf axils.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: simple

[photo of wavy leaves] Leaves are opposite with fine hairs on lower surfaces, edges are toothless but may be wavy - up and down - and will curl upwards from the mid-vein. Leaves are elongated but broad, rounded at base and narrowed to a pointed tip, up to 3 inches wide and 8 inches long, with short leaf stems. The main stem is erect, unbranched, smooth or with very fine short hairs.


Only one record of this milkweed species has ever been listed at the Bell Herbarium, from 1883 down in Wabasha county, but that has since been determined as a mis-ID so there are now no records of it in the wild in Minnesota. It is listed as endangered in Wisconsin and as Special Concern or Endangered in other states within its native range. This species can thrive in home landscape gardens in Minnesota but needs watering in drier soils and in droughty weather. Somewhat similar in appearance to common milkweed, (A. syriaca), purple milkweed is a smaller plant, its flowers are generally more consistent purple in coloration, its flower clusters are more terminal on the stem, and it is less hairy overall. This is a species that will bring the gift of insects and birds to your garden.

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More photos

Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in a suburban garden and were grown from purchased seed.


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

Posted by: Leona - Deer River
on: 2011-07-10 22:26:00

Saw this today. There was so much, I had to find out what it was. North of Deer River about 15 miles.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2011-07-11 09:01:30

Purple milkweed isn't likely to be found in the wild. What you saw was much more likely common milkweed, especially if it was in any quantity.

Posted by: Bill - Wabasha county
on: 2012-06-25 20:29:15

We have this growing in our yard and garden. I wasn't sure what it was but the scent reminded me of lilacs. Very nice fragrance.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2012-06-25 22:31:22

Bill, if the milkweed was not planted there it is more likely common milkweed, which does smell a lot like lilacs. Very nice, indeed.

Posted by: Dontrell - Minneapolis
on: 2014-12-11 12:48:46

I really like this plant because purple is my favoriot color and I love milkplants

Posted by: Karen - Meeker County near Dassel
on: 2015-07-02 19:19:05

Just spotted this lovely flower near my hydrangeas on a wooded path. I will be very careful to protect it. I have lived and gardened here for 18 years and this is the first time I have seen this variety of milkweed.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2015-07-05 09:57:29

Karen, if the milkweed was not planted there it is more likely common milkweed. Purple milkweed hasn't been found in the wild in MN in well over 100 years, where common milkweed is, well, common ;)

Posted by: Mary L - Rosemount
on: 2016-07-18 01:28:35

Next to the Blue Aster, this has to be my most favorite of all the MN wild flowers! I have these in my yard. I look forward each year, after finally convincing my family to STOP PULLING THEM! The HUGE globes of tiny showy flowers, with the sent of heavy perfume. Visited often by butterflies (caterpillars), dragonflies, & hummingbirds.

Posted by: Veronica B - Mora
on: 2017-07-15 18:27:22

We saw something similar along our lake shore. I took pics.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-07-15 19:15:49

Veronica, unless you planted it, most likely what you have is common milkweed.

Posted by: Sharon Thole - Longville, MN.
on: 2019-07-25 11:53:48

I'm a rookie - is Joe-pie weed consider milkweed?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2019-07-26 22:52:29

No, Sharon, joe-pye is not a milkweed - it is in the Aster family.

Posted by: Pamela Eyden - Winona
on: 2020-06-22 13:11:42

I found what I think is this plant, asclepia purpurascens, near the river across from Winona, in Wisconsin.

Posted by: Carole Westby - Garfield
on: 2020-07-18 11:13:37

Can I send a photo somehow? I found this in my perennial bed and I’ve never before. Growing really close to common milkweed

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-07-18 19:39:33

Carole, if you want help with an ID, post your photos on the Minnesota Wildflowers Facebook page.

Posted by: Bill Caudle - Shoreview, Ramsey Co., near north end of Turtle Lake.
on: 2020-07-19 09:20:39

There is one growing near the beginning of the boardwalk near Co Rd I W & Lexington Ave N. I have photos if you'd like to confirm. Thanks.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-07-19 14:22:36

Bill, I would be very surprised if that were a natural population of purple milkweed. If you'd like confirmation on the ID, post your photos on the Minnesota Wildflowers Facebook page.

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