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A Comprehensive Guide to Texas Milkweed (Asclepias texana)

Prepare for the deep dive into the ultimate Lone Star milkweed native, Texas Milkweed that is suffused with milky sap that supports monarch butterflies. This species can transform your Texas butterfly garden into a butterfly sanctuary and help the monarchs. Read on to find about the white flowers and its preference for dry habitats.

Texas Milkweed (Asclepias texana) is a herbaceous perennial that is native to the state of Texas in the United States and adjacent Mexico. This plant is a host to the Queen (Danaus gilippus) and Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterflies. Growing from 8″ to 3 feet tall, this species has white flowers that bloom from May to August. It is hardy in zones 6-10.

Taxonomy and Naming of Texas Milkweed (Asclepias texana)

Herbarium specimen of Texas milkweed (Asclepias texana).
Herbarium Specimen — Asclepias texana A.Heller collected in Mexico by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)
Isotype of Texas milkweed (Asclepias texana).
Isotype Specimen — Asclepias texana A.Heller collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Taxonomy

Texas Milkweed (Asclepias texana) was originally named and described by Amos Heller, an American botanist, in 1895. This species has kepy the same name 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, texana, is a Latinized version of its native location.

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name comes from the native location of this plant. Other common names include white milkweed, and rattlesnake milkweed (Jones 1950).

Physical Description of Texas Milkweed (Asclepias texana)

White flowers of Texas milkweed (Asclepias texana) in a wooded area.
Flowers of Texas Milkweed (Asclepias texana) — Mason Brock (Masebrock), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Plant Type: This plant is a herbaceous perennial
  • Height: 0.5 to 2 (3) feet tall
  • Stem: The stem is branching and can be shrubby at the base (Woodson 1954).
  • Leaves: The leaves are opposite, simple, and oval to oblong-elliptic in shape. The leaves are 1 to 3 inches long and about 1.3 inches wide.
  • Flower color: white
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from June to August.
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant has follicles that mature in the late summer and fall.

Range of Texas Milkweed (Asclepias texana) in the United States and Canada

Range map of Texas milkweed (Asclepias texana) 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 state of Texas in the United States. It is also present in the adjacent parts of Mexico.

Habitat

Texas shrubland habitat for Texas milkweed.
Texas Shrubland Habitat — Patrick Alexander from Las Cruces, NM, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species grows in canyons, arroyos, and hillsides. One source says this plant can be on shaded ground (Quillen 1922) and under live oaks and junipers (Garden Style San Antonio).

Hosted Insects

Queen Butterfly on Twig.
Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus) — Korall, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Other Supported Wildlife

Bumblebee on pink flower.
Bumblebee on Flower — Weerlicht, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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

Frequently Asked Questions about Texas Milkweed (Asclepias texana)

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 cite this species specifically, but milkweeds in general have been used for pharmaceuticals, fibers, and foods.

How is this plant distinguished from other milkweeds?

This is the only white flowering milkweed present in the canyons of Texas (Singhurst and Hutchins 2015). This fact serves to separate this species from others in the genus. Excepting the growing location of the plant, it is most closely similar to the aquatic milkweed (Asclepias perennis). Aquatic milkweed has a tapering leaf base, while this milkweed has a broad leaf base.

Is this plant invasive?

This plant has not been noted as being weedy.

Gardening with Texas Milkweed (Asclepias texana)

Plant of Texas milkweed (Asclepias texana) in a wooded area.
Plant of Texas Milkweed — Asclepias texana A.Heller observed in United States of America by lanechaffin (licensed under CC0 1.0)

Hardiness

This species is hardy in zones 6-10. 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 can grow in full sun to full shade.

References

  • Jones, Julia. 1950. Wild Pot Herbs of Texas. Texas Journal of Science 2 (3): 400-404.
  • Quillen, Ellen Schulz. 1922. 500 Wild Flowers of San Antonio and Vicinity. (San Antonio: self-published).
  • Singhurst, Jason, Ben Hutchins, and Walter C. Holmes. 2015. Identification of Milkweeds in Texas. (Austin, TX: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department).
  • Woodson, Robert E. 1954. The North American Species of Asclepias L. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 41: 1-211.
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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.

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