Skip to content

A Comprehensive Guide to Low Milkweed (Asclepias pumila)

Low Milkweed (Asclepias pumila) is a herbaceous perennial that is native to the south-central and Great Plains region of the United States. This plant is a host to the Queen (Danaus gilippus) and Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterflies. Growing from 0.2 to 1.5 feet tall, this species has white to slightly red or yellowish-green flowers that bloom from July to September. It is hardy in zones 5-9.

Taxonomy and Naming of Low Milkweed (Asclepias pumila)

Herbarium specimen of low milkweed (Asclepias pumila).
Herbarium Specimen — Asclepias pumila (Gray) Vail collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Taxonomy

Low Milkweed (Asclepias pumila) was originally named and described by Asa Gray, an American botanist, in 1876 as a variety of whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata var. pumila). Later in 1898, Anna Murray Vail, a botanist at the New York Botanical Garden, gave the species its current name. The species has kept this name since this time and is a member of the Dogbane Family (Apocynaceae).

Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Asclepias, is named for the Greek god of healing, Asklepios (Flora of Wisconsin). The species name, pumila, is the Latin word for “dwarf,” presumably in reference to the diminutive nature of the plant.

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name comes from the low stature of the plant and another common name, dwarf milkweed (Daniels 1911), derives from this. Other common names dealing with the stature of the plant include the Great Plains whorled milkweed and the low whorled milkweed (Marsh and Clawson 1921). One name, narrow-leaved milkweed (Verink 1914), describes the leaves.

Physical Description of Low Milkweed (Asclepias pumila)

Close-up of white flowers of low milkweed (Asclepias pumila).
Flowers of Low Milkweed (Asclepias pumila) — English: NPS Photo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Description

  • Plant Type: This plant is a herbaceous perennial
  • Height: 0.5 to 1.5 feet
  • Stem: The stem is often branched and pubescent (Marsh and Clawson 1921).
  • Leaves: The leaves are alternate (whorled), sessile, simple, entire, and filiform in shape. The leaves are 1 to 2 inches long and about 0.04 inches wide. The margins of the leaves can be revolute (Marsh and Clawson 1921).
  • Flower color: white with reddish accents to yellowish-green or greenish-white
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from July to September.
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant has follicles that mature in the late summer and fall.

Range of Low Milkweed (Asclepias pumila) in the United States and Canada

Range map of low milkweed (Asclepias pumila) in the United States and Canada.
Range Map Credit: Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2023.(website https://bonap.org/). Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2023. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)]

This milkweed species is native to the south-central and Great Plains region of the United States. This species is common throughout its range.

Habitat

Prairie habitat in United States.
Prairie Habitat — USFWS Mountain-Prairie, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This species grows in dry prairies (Rydberg 1900) and plains that have moderate elevation.

Hosted Insects

Queen butterfly on purple flower.
Queen Butterfly on Flower — Renee from Las Vegas, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Other Supported Wildlife

Bumblebee on pink flower.
Bumblebee on Flower — Joaquim Alves Gaspar, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This species is a nectar source to other butterflies, skippers, bees, and wasps during the growing season.

Frequently Asked Questions about Low Milkweed (Asclepias pumila)

Is this plant poisonous?

Like other milkweeds, it has cardiac glycosides (cardenolides) and is considered to be poisonous with ingestion. This plant has been recognized as being poisonous to livestock (Woodson 1954, and Marsh and Clawson 1921).

Does this plant have any ethnobotanical uses?

The Native American Ethobotanical Database shows that this plant has been used as an antidiarrheal and pediatric aid.

How is this plant distinguished from other milkweeds?

This milkweed is similar to the whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata), but whorled milkweed is much taller being 4-6 dm. high versus 1-2 dm. for low milkweed (Rydberg 1906).

Is this plant invasive?

This plant has not been shown to be invasive in the literature.

Gardening with Low Milkweed (Asclepias pumila)

Plant of low milkweed (Asclepias pumila) with fruits.
Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hardiness

This species is hardy in zones 5-9. If your garden is within these zones and you have the right growing conditions (soil, moisture and exposure), you may well be able to grow this plant. However, if planted outside of its range, the hosted species may not recognize the plant or be harmed by ingesting a different species with an unfamiliar chemical composition.

Optimal Conditions

This species grows best in places where it can receive full sun and has dry sandy and/or gravelly soils.

References

  • Daniels, Francis Potter. 1911. The Flora of Boulder Colorado, and Vicinity. The University of Missouri Studies Science Series 2: 149-311.
  • Marsh, Dwight C. and A.B. Clawson. 1921. Poisonous properties of the whorled milkweeds Asclepias pumila and A. verticillata var. geyeri. (Washington, DC: USDA).
  • Rydberg, Per Axel. 1906. Fora of Colorado. (Fort Collins: Colorado Experiment Station) Bulletin 100.
  • Rydberg, Per Axel. 1900. Catalogue of the Flora of Montana and the Yellowstone National Park. Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden. (New York: New York Botanical Garden).
  • Verink, E.D. 1914. A Preliminary Report on the Flora of Linn County. The Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science 21: 77-99.
  • Woodson, Robert E. 1954. The North American Species of Asclepias L. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 41: 1-211.
Share this post on social!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

nine − four =

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.

The owner of this website has made a commitment to accessibility and inclusion, please report any problems that you encounter using the contact form on this website. This site uses the WP ADA Compliance Check plugin to enhance accessibility.