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Common milkweed

Milkweed plant with large balls of small pink flowers and broad leaves in a garden.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a Minnesota native wildflower that blooms in midsummer. Its lovely fragrance often precedes seeing the flowers. 

Common milkweed is a native, perennial herbaceous plant in the milkweed family. It commonly grows in sunny areas and ditches and is a primary part of the monarch butterfly’s diet.

  • Leaves are oval and opposite and plants can grow up to 5 feet tall.
  • Flowers develop at the top of the stem in an umble pattern and are typically light pink.
  • Seed pods mature late in the fall.

Essential for the Monarch butterfly life cycle

Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on the leaves and the adult butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs. They also feed on the nectar of the flowers, along with other flower species.

Milkweeds have complex flowers; when you examine the individual flowers that make up the pink flower balls you will be amazed at their form and detail.

Growing milkweed in your garden

This native plant is aggressive and can be weedy. The fluffy seeds float everywhere in the fall when the pods split open. The plants also have underground rhizomes that colonize to make a large stand of many plants.

Common milkweed loves full sun and tolerates most soils, including heavy and wet sites.

Try to make a place for it in your garden and you will not only enjoy the fragrance of the flowers but very likely will see monarch butterflies enjoying the plant as well.

Author: Mary H. Meyer, Extension horticulturist

Reviewed in 2021

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