Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is one of the most common host plants for the Monarch Butterfly in the United States. Generally when you think of the name “milkweed” it is this plant. Milkweed can be purchased in the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC Graden Shop and is one of the more common plants in the butterfly garden.

Taxonomy and History of Asclepias syriaca

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)–Zsoldos Márton, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Taxonomy of Common Milkweed

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) was first described from a 1635 specimen collected in Quebec City, Canada. At this time it was called Apocynum majus syriacum rectum. In 1753, Linnaeus renamed it to Asclepias syriaca in Species Plantarium (Gaertner, 1979). Before 2000, the genus Asclepias was in the Milkweed Family (Asclepidiaceae), but it has since been made a sub-family of the Dogbane Family (Apocynaceae) (Endress and Bruyns 2000).

Description and Alternative Names

Tiger Swallowtail on Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Common Milkweed with Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly — Photo by author

Description

Common Milkweed grows to about 6 feet (2m) tall and has simple opposite leaves. It generally appears from April to May and flowers with pink to white flowers in June to August.

Alternative Names

This plant is also known by the names of butterfly flower, silkweed, swallow-wort, and Virginia milkweed. The genus name, “Asclepias” comes from the name, Aklepios, who was the Greek god of medicine.

Range and Habitat of Common Milkweed

Range

This plant is native to middle and eastern North America. The species has been naturalized in central and southern Europe and is often considered to be a weed. It can also be found in Krygystan, Australia, southeast Africa, and Japan (Cabi.org).

Common Milkweed in a field — Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Habitat

This plant is found in grasslands, both native and cultivated, waste and disturbed lands, and roadsides. It prefers well drained loamy and clayey soils that are somewhat moist. It does best in full sun, but can tolerate light shade.

Host Species

The Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is perhaps the most famous user of this plant. Other species that depend on it include:

Host Species of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Common NameScientific NameHost Use
Monarch ButterflyDanaus plexippusLays eggs and feeds on leaves
Milkweed Leaf MinerLabidomera clivicollisLarva feeds on leaves
Common Milkweed BugLygaeus kalmiiLays eggs on milkweed, feeds on flower nectar and seeds
Red Milkweed BeetleTetraopes tetraophthalmusspecific to milkweed and dogbane plants
Milkweed Stem WeevilRhyssomatus lineaticollisfeeds on the stems
Unexpected Cycnia (a moth)Cycnia inopinatuscaterpillars feed on the leaves
Delicate Cycnia (a moth)Cycnia teneracaterpillars feed on the leaves
Seed BugNeacoryphus bicruciscaterpillars feed on the leaves
WeevilGymnetron tetrumcaterpillars feed on the leaves
Insects that are reliant on Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

References and External Links

Cabi.org. Datasheet on Asclepias syriaca (Common Milkweed).

Endress ME, Bruyns PV, 2000. A revised classification of the Apocynaceae s.l. Botanical Review, 66(1):1-56

Gaertner EE, 1979, publ. 1980. The history and use of milkweed (Asclepias syriaca L.). Economic Botany, 33(2):119-123

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