Common Milkweed

Latin Name: Asclepias syriaca

Family: Apocynaceae

Facts about Common Milkweed:

  • Also known as Silk grass, Common silkweed, Silky swallow wort, Virginia silk

  • Sun: full sun to light shade

  • Water: can tolerate dry conditions

  • Looks Like

    • Size: Perennial herbaceous plant generally 3 – 4 feet in height but can grow up to 8 feet. Generally a single plant is roughly 2 feet wide and varies with height. 

    • Spread: Forms colonies by rhizomes. Also spreads by seed.

    • Leaf:  Darker green of the top of the leaves contrasts with a lighter green on the underside. Oval to oblong opposite, simple, large, and firm, measuring about 10—25 cm long and 5—12 cm wide.

    • Bloom Time: June , July , August. Usually blooms in second year.

    • Bloom Description:  Highly fragrant slightly hanging flower clusters with as many as 100 flowers per cluster. White to pink to purple colour.

    • Fruit: about 9 cm long to 4 cm at the widest point. Fruit color is green and goes grayish as it ripens. Fruits split open between September-October. 

    • Seeds: Small disc-shaped black seeds carried by the wind on silky, white, hair like tufts (coma) resembling parasols. One seed is at the end of the coma.

  • Habitat: Fields and Open Areas; Dry open fields.

  • Light Requirement: Sun  to light shade

    • Soil Moisture: Moist 

    • Soil Description: Medium to fine sandy, clayey, or rocky calcareous soils. Also found in well-drained loamy soils. 

Biodiversity Benefits:

  • Common Milkweed, classified as a herb, is used by many pollinator species such as buckeyes, bumblebees, eastern tiger swallowtails, eight-spotted forester moths, fritillaries, hairstreaks, honeybees, hummingbird moths, mourning cloaks, painted lady butterflies, red admirals, spicebush swallowtails, queens, question marks, for nectar as well as having special value to native bees, bumble bees, and, honey bees, with over 450 species of insects using milkweed for food and shelter.

  • Common Milkweed is one of the three native milkweeds that can successfully host Monarch eggs so they survive. No other plant can supply this critical part of the Monarch butterfly life cycle.

Historical Use:

  • Native Americans used this species as a source of fibers and during the Second World War children in the northern states were encouraged to collect the seed pods that were processed for the coma, or floss, which was used for flotation in life vests.

  • Today the coma is harvested for use in pillows and comforters.

Caution! Poisonous parts include milky sap from leaves, stems. Toxic only in large quantities. Symptoms include vomiting, stupor, weakness.  

How to plant Common Milkweed:

  1. Planting the seeds: Fall planting

    November is a good option for most regions

  2. Clear away any mulch or rocks from the area which could potentially block the growth of a small seedling.

    Water the area thoroughly and let it saturate the soil.

  3. Make a hole about first knuckle deep.

  4. Cover the seeds with the already-moist soil. You can place a few inches of straw or leaf mulch over the area to keep the soil from drying out.

  5. Space how you like!  Nature doesn’t always plant in rows.

  6. Mark your seeds or identify the area where they are planted so you don’t remove the young plants.