Asclepias sullivantii (Sullivant's Milkweed)

Plant Info
Also known as: Smooth Milkweed, Prairie Milkweed
Family:Apocynaceae (Dogbane)
Life cycle:perennial
  • State Threatened
Habitat:sun; moist prairies
Bloom season:June - August
Plant height:2 to 3 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

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

[photo of flowers] Flowers are about 1/3 inch across and ½ to ¾ inch long with rich purple petals contrasted with a smooth rose/pink hood and horns. The 5 petals fall away freely, tips angled down with an open waist between petal base and hood base. The 5 hoods are short and thick, not extending half their length above flower center. Horns are long and narrow, appressed down into flower center and overlaping each other's tips. Clusters are convex, 2½ to 3 inches wide with up to 20 flowers each, at the top of the plant and 2 or more arising from upper leaf axils.

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

[photo of leaves]  Leaves are 1½ to 3 inches wide, 4 to 6 inches long, narrowly egg-shaped to oblong, opposite, toothless, hairless, slightly heart-shaped at the base with little to no leaf stalk or somewhat clasping the stem, and are mostly upswept, revealing the creamy colored or reddish midvein from underneath. 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 hairless, sturdy, single and unbranched.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

Fruit is a pod containing numerous flat, brown seeds with a tuft of white hairs to carry them off in the wind.


Another rare Minnesota milkweed, its historical range has always been limited to our southern central counties. According to the DNR, nearly all of its tall grass prairie habitat has been converted to agriculture and its mostly been able to survive along abandoned railroad rights-of-way. It was listed as a state Threatened species in 1984. Some websites claim it can be grown quite easily on richer garden soils but I have no first hand experience with this at home. There are several pink to purplish milkweeds with opposite, oval or oblong leaves. A distinguishing feature of Sullivant's Milkweed is its overall hairlessness—other species have hairy leaves and/or stems.

Please visit our sponsors

  • Minnesota Goose Garden

Native Plant Nurseries, Restoration and Landscaping Services ↓

Map of native plant resources in the upper midwest

  • Natural Shore Technologies - Using science to improve land and water
  • Minnesota Native Landscapes - Your Ecological Problem Solvers
  • Spangle Creek Labs - Native orchids, lab propagated
  • Prairie Restorations - Bringing people together with the land
  • Landscape Alternatives

More photos

Photos by K. Chayka and Peter M. Dziuk, taken at Iron Horse Prairie SNA in Dodge County


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

Posted by: gerri - maple grove
on: 2011-07-06 11:12:18

These are blooming like crazy accross the street from work in Maple Grove. Any problem in transplanting some to my yard? Are they good for butterflys, wildlife? Advise.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2011-07-06 11:23:20

Sullivant's milkweed is a pretty rare species so it is much more likely that's common milkweed you're seeing. It grows easily in a variety of habitats, and will spread freely on its own, sometimes too much so it can be a bit weedy. Monarchs love all milkweeds, but other insects host on them as well.

Posted by: Jason - Arlington
on: 2012-06-25 21:05:44

I have about ten of these I grew from seed and they are blooming now. They were pretty easy to grow but they are definitely not as vigorous as Common Milkweed. I find monarch cats to prefer this to Butterfly Weed but maybe don't like it quite as much as Swamp Milkweed. Once you feel the smooth, waxy leaves, you will easily be able to distinguish it from Common Milkweed.

Posted by: Brian - St. Peter
on: 2013-07-28 21:57:00

I saw lots of these today at Iron Horse Prairie SNA. First time that I've seen this species. And they do go well with Rattlesnake Master and Wild Quinine. :)

Posted by: Brian - St. Peter
on: 2015-07-17 23:13:25

These were well into the early stages of bloom at Schaefer Prairie Preserve (The Nature Conservancy) in McLeod County last week (July 10). Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) was also blooming, along with A. incarnata and A. tuberosa.

Posted by: Davis - TNC Miller Prairie
on: 2019-07-16 18:44:14

Nice sized patch in the west tract of the site on the north side near the dividing fenceline

Posted by: Jodi Sperr - Grant County, Macsville township
on: 2019-08-06 19:28:46

Growing near slough next to farm field just outside Niemackl Lake Park. Would add picture if possible.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2019-08-06 19:58:39

Jodi, Sullivant's milkweed isn't known to be in Grant County. That doesn't mean it isn't, but I'd be inclined to think you saw common milkweed instead.

Posted by: Kandace Lichtblau-Schierts - Lake City
on: 2019-08-16 22:12:34

I am quite certain these are abundantly growing in little sanctuary yard patches throughout Lake City. I remember being allowed to collect a few pods in 1998 on the Consevation Corps while doing prairie rehabilitation projects and I would bring them home to my mother to grow... she has them now abundantly, as do I, my grandmother's, aunt's, neighbors.... smooth leaved, pink clusters- I would be delighted to submit pictures! I see these in our little river town more abundantly than the swamp or common!

Posted by: Sara Nelson - Minneapolis
on: 2021-05-26 14:13:11

I have a few plants in my boulevard garden that I grew from seed. Today I saw a monarch laying eggs preferentially on these plants, second choice was common milkweed, and finally she laid a few on the butterfly milkweed. Makes me want to grow a lot more sullivants!

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.


Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.