Asclepias sullivantii (Sullivant's Milkweed)

Plant Info
Also known as: Smooth Milkweed, Prairie Milkweed
Genus:Asclepias
Family:Apocynaceae (Dogbane)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:native
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

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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.

Notes:

Another rare Minnesota milkweed, its historical range has always been limited to our southern central counties. 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, generally oval leaves. A distinguishing feature of Sullivant's Milkweed is its overall hairlessness—other species have hairy leaves and/or stems. All Asclepias were formerly in family Asclepiadaceae but have been reassigned to Apocynaceae (Dogbane).

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More photos

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

Comments

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.

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