Logo

TREES & Plants

Common Milkweed

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.

Botanical name: 
Asclepias syriaca
All Common Names: 
Common milkweed
Family (English): 
Dogbane (formerly milkweed)
Family (Botanic): 
Apocynaceae (formerly Asclepiadaceae)
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Perennial
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (foliage falls off)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area
  • Illinois
  • North America
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 3
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
  • Zone 9
Growth Rate: 
  • Fast
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial sun (4-6 hrs direct light daily)
Tolerances: 
  • Dry sites
  • Clay soil
Soil Preference: 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Pink
  • Purple
Size Range: 
  • Large plant (more than 24 inches)
Shape or Form: 
  • Upright
Landscape Uses: 
  • Massing
  • Mixed border
Time of Year: 
  • Early summer
  • Mid summer
  • Late summer
More Information: 

Size

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

C-Value: 0
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.