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Asclepias syriaca (Common milkweed)
Cressler, Alan

Asclepias syriaca

Asclepias syriaca L.

Common milkweed

Asclepiadaceae (Milkweed Family)

Synonym(s): Asclepias intermedia, Asclepias kansana, Asclepias syriaca var. kansana


USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

A tall, downy plant with slightly drooping purplish to pink flower clusters.

This plant differs from Showy Milkweed (A. speciosa) in having an unbranched stem. The plant contains cardiac glycosides, allied to digitalins used in treating some heart disease. These glycosides, when absorbed by monarch butterfly larvae whose sole source of food is milkweed foliage, make the larvae and adult butterflies toxic to birds and other predators.


Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Fruit: Green

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Purple
Bloom Time: Jun , Jul , Aug


USA: AL , AR , CT , DC , DE , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MS , MT , NC , ND , NE , NH , NJ , NY , OH , OK , OR , PA , RI , SC , SD , TN , TX , VA , VT , WI , WV
Canada: MB , NB , NL , NS , ON , QC , SK
Native Distribution: Saskatchewan to New Brunswick; south to Georgia; west through Tennessee to Kansas and Iowa.
Native Habitat: Old fields, roadsides, and waste places.

Growing Conditions

Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Moist
Soil Description: Loam, Sand


Use Food: EDIBLE PARTS: Leaves, new shoots, flower buds and firm seed pods. Gather leaves in early spring when they first open. Gather seed pods in summer. Parboil for three minutes, then discard bitter water and replace with clean boiling water. (Cold water tends to fix bitterness.) Repeat this process three times, then cook the leaves for 15 minutes before seasoning them. A pinch of soda can be added during cooking to break down the fiber and improve flavor.The young shoots under six inches long, found during the spring are used as a vegetable. Remove the fuzz on the shoot by rubbing it off. Preparation is the same as for the leaves. Collect flower buds and flowers during the summer. Dip buds in boiling water for one minute, batter and deep fry. When cooked like broccoli, buds are similar to okra. The flower clusters may also be battered and fried. After cooking, buds, flowers and leaves can be frozen. Use like okra in soups. A bit of baking soda in the water will help break down the tough fibers in the seed pod. Parboiled for several minutes, the young pods may be slit, rolled in a cornmeal/flour mixture and fried or frozen for future use.

The name milkweed refers to the milky white sap, which contains bitter chemicals to protect the plants from predators. A few insects are immune to these poisons and accumulate them in their bodies, protecting themselves from their own predators. Monarch butterflies cannot complete their life cycles without milkweed. (Kershaw)
Warning: POISONOUS PARTS: Milky sap from leaves, stems. Toxic only in large quantities. Symptoms include vomiting, stupor, weakness, spasms by ingesting other species; need careful identification. Toxic Principle: Resinoid, cardiac glycoside in other species. (Poisonous Plants of N.C. State)
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Fragrant Flowers: yes
Attracts: Butterflies
Larval Host: Monarch

Value to Beneficial Insects

Special Value to Native Bees
Special Value to Bumble Bees
Special Value to Honey Bees
Supports Conservation Biological Control

This information was provided by the Pollinator Program at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Asclepias syriaca is a larval host and/or nectar source for:
(Danaus plexippus)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA

Find Seed or Plants

Order seed of this species from Native American Seed and help support the Wildflower Center.

Find seed sources for this species at the Native Seed Network.

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

Mr. Smarty Plants says

Native plants of dune erosion control in Michigan
May 30, 2008
We care for Lake Michigan dune near our home in New Buffalo and would like to provide erosion control with native species that will also enhance the beauty of the dune with long lasting flowers. The ...
view the full question and answer

National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Suppliers Directory

According to the inventory provided by Associate Suppliers, this plant is available at the following locations:

Edge of the Woods Native Plant Nursery - Orefield, PA
Sunshine Farm & Gardens - Renick, WV
Ohio Prairie Nursery - Hiram, OH
American Native Nursery - Quakertown, PA
Toadshade Wildflower Farm - Frenchtown, NJ

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Texas Discovery Gardens - Dallas, TX
Natural Biodiversity - Johnstown, PA
Native Seed Network - Corvallis, OR
* Available Online from Wildflower Center Store


Bibref 1186 - Field Guide to Moths of Eastern North America (2005) Covell, C.V., Jr.
Bibref 1185 - Field Guide to Western Butterflies (Peterson Field Guides) (1999) Opler, P.A. and A.B. Wright
Bibref 946 - Gardening with Prairie Plants: How to Create Beautiful Native Landscapes (2002) Wasowski, Sally
* The Midwestern Native Garden: Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants An Illustrated Guide (2011) Adelman, Charlotte and Schwartz, Bernard L.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Additional resources

USDA: Find Asclepias syriaca in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Asclepias syriaca in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Asclepias syriaca


Record Modified: 2014-09-18
Research By: TWC Staff

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