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, native spreader reaches 3 to 5 feet high and will grow in thickets, woodland borders, fields, fence rows, and areas along railroads and roadsides.
This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.
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
- Dry sites,
- Clay soil
Season of Interest:
- Early summer,
- Mid summer,
- Late summer
Flower Color & Fragrance:
Shape or Form:
Upright, 3 to 5 feet high and 2 to 3 feet wide
Tree & Plant Care
Full sun to part shade in average soil.
Often found in meadows, roadsides and along railroad right-of-way.
Spreads by runners and reseeds easily.
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. Creamy yellow eggs are laid on the underside of leaves.
Common milkweed is also a nectar source for many species of butterflies.
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 short wooly hairs.
Extremely fragrant, umbels of flower clusters, about 2 1/2 to 4 inches across emerge from the axils of the upper leaves. Flowers range in color from faded pink to reddish-purple. Each flower is 1/4 inch across. Flowers bloom for several weeks in July and August.
The seed pods (follicles) are 3 to 4 inches long and covered with soft prickles and short wooly hairs. At maturity, each inflated seedpod splits to release numerous seeds that have large tufts of white hair which help with dispersal of seed is by wind.
Related species and their differences
Prairie Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii): This rare native milkweed is similar to common milkweed but has larger, showier, deeper pink flowers. reaching 2 to 3 feet high and 18 to 36 inches wide, it is found in moist meadows, along rivers and near woodlands. Its flowers attract butterflies and monarch butterflies. Difficult to find in nurseries.