Table of Contents for Red Ring Milkweed (Asclepias variegata)
Red-Ring Milkweed (Asclepias variegata) is a herbaceous perennial that is found in the mid-western and eastern United States. This plant is a host to the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and Queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus). It can grow from 1 to 3 feet tall and has flowers that are white with a purple to red ring at the base that bloom from May to July. It is hardy in zones 3-9.
Taxonomy and Naming of Red-Ring Milkweed (Asclepias variegata)
Red-Ring milkweed (Asclepias variegata) was named and described by Carl Linnaeus, in Species Plantarum (1753). The species has kept this name since and is a member of the Dogbane Family (Apocynaceae).
Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names
Common Name and Alternative Names
The common name apparently describes a red “ring” that surrounds the base of the flowers. A variant of this name apparently of the same origin is redring milkweed. Other common names describe the main color of the flowers and are White milkweed, white-flower milkweed, and white-flowered milkweed. One common name, variegated milkweed, is similar to the Latin species name and is likely of the same origin.
Physical Description of Red-Ring Milkweed (Asclepias variegata)
- Plant Type: This plant is a herbaceous perennial.
- Height: 1 to 4 feet
- Stem: color ranges from green to purple
- Leaves: The leaves are opposite, whorled, simple, entire, and ovate to oblong-ovate. They range in size from 2 to 6 inches in length and 1 to 4 inches in width. The leaves are glaucous (white) beneath (Woodson 1954). The leaves tend to show a reddish vein in the center.
- Flower color: white with a purple to red ring.
- Blooming period: This plant blooms from May to July. The flowers appear like a “snowball.”
- Fruiting type and period: This plant has follicles that mature in the late summer and fall.
Range of Red-Ring Milkweed (Asclepias variegata) in the United States and Canada
This milkweed species grows in the mid-western and eastern United States except for northeastern New England. It is considered to be rare in the states of Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. There is a historical collection in the province of Ontario in Canada.
This species grows in thickets, open woods, and roadsides that are dry and rocky or sandy. It likes places that have partial sun and light shade.
Other Supported Wildlife
This species is a nectar source to other butterflies, skippers, bees, and wasps during the growing season.
Frequently Asked Questions about Red-ring Milkweed (Asclepias variegata)
Is this plant poisonous?
Like other milkweeds, it has cardiac glycosides (cardenolides) and is considered to be poisonous with ingestion.
Does this plant have any ethnobotanical uses?
The Native American Ethobotanical Database does not list this species in particular, but milkweeds in general have been used for a number of medicinal uses and foods.
How is this plant distinguished from other milkweeds?
Red-ring milkweed is listed as being similar to Asclepias jorgeana, but this species is only located in Mexico (Fishbein 1999). Other milkweeds that are similar include oval-leaved milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia), but this milkweed is shorter in height. Woolly milkweed (Asclepias lanunginosa), has narrower leaves but looks similar. Like the former species, swamp white milkweed (Ascelpias perennis) also has narrower leaves and flatter unbels (Illinois Wildflowers).
The fruits are similar to purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens) and poke milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) (USDA Forest Service).
Is this plant invasive?
This species can grow in places that have been disturbed, but there is nothing in the literature indicating that it is invasive.
Gardening with Red-Ring Milkweed (Asclepias variegata)
Add Red-Ring Milkweed to Your Garden
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This species is hardy in zones 3-9. 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.
This species grows best in places it can receive partial sun to light-shade. It favors dry rocky or sandy soils.
- Fishbein, Mark and S.P. Lynch. 1999. Asclepias jorgeana (Asclepiadaceae), a new milkweed from montane western Mexico. Novon 9: 179-184.
- Woodson, Robert E. 1954. The North American Species of Asclepias L. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 41: 1-211.