Although often considered a weed, common milkweed is a nectar source for many butterflies and leaves are an important food source for the monarch butterfly eggs and caterpillars. This aggressive spreader reaches 3 to 5 feet tall and will grow in thickets, woodland borders, fields, fence rows, and areas along railroads and roadsides.
All Common Names:
Tree or Plant Type:
- Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
- Chicago area,
- North America
- Mixed border
- Large plant (more than 24 inches)
- Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
- Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
- Zone 3,
- Zone 4,
- Zone 5 (Chicago),
- Zone 6,
- Zone 7,
- Zone 8,
- Zone 9
- Moist, well-drained soil
Season of Interest:
- Early summer,
- Mid summer,
- Late summer
Flower Color & Fragrance:
Shape or Form:
3 to 5 feet tall
Tree & Plant Care
Common milkweed can be incorporated into mixed borders, but due to its aggressive nature, the plant may need to be thinned out on a regular basis.
Avoid pesticide use around this plant to encourage butterflies to use it.
Disease, pests and problems
Milkweed bugs and milkweed beetle are late season pests.
Native geographic location and habitat
Found in a wide range of habitats.
Attracts birds & butterflies
This plant is a caterpillar and larva host for the monarch butterfly.
Common milkweed is also a nectar source for many species of butterflies, including monarch, coral hairstreak, striped hairstreak, Edward’s hairstreak, banded hairstreak, Acadian hairstreak, Eastern tailed-blue, black swallowtail, tiger swallowtail, spicebush swallowtail, checkered white, American copper, great spangles fritillary, pearl crescent, and silver-spotted skipper butterflies.
Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture
The simple, opposite arranged leaves are up to 8 inches long and 3½ inches wide, oblong in shape, and smooth along their margins. They are attached to a thick stout stem. The upper leaf surface is pale-medium to dark green and hairless above, while the lower leaf surface is densely covered with wooly hairs that are very short.
Flower arrangement, shape, and size
Umbels of flower clusters, about 2 1/2 to 4 inches across emerge from the axils of the upper leaves. These flowers are quite fragrant and range in color from faded pink to reddish-purple. Each flower is 1/4 inch across. Flowers bloom for several weeks.
Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions
The seed pods (follicles) are 3 to 4 inches long and covered with soft prickles and short wooly hairs. At maturity, each seedpod splits to release numerous seeds that have large tufts of white hair which help with dispersal of seed is by wind.