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A Comprehensive Guide to Tufted Milkweed (Asclepias nummularia)

Tufted Milkweed (Asclepias nummularia) is a herbaceous perennial that is native to the south-central and southwestern United States. This plant is a host to the Queen (Danaus gilippus) and Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterflies. Growing from 0.15 to 0.3 feet tall, this species has purple to rose flowers that bloom from April to August. It is hardy in zones 8-10.

Taxonomy and Naming of Tufted Milkweed (Asclepias nummularia)

Herbarium specimen of tufted milkweed (Asclepias nummularia).
Herbarium Specimen — Asclepias nummularia Torr. collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)
Type specimen of tufted milkweed (Asclepias nummularia).
Type Specimen — Asclepias nummularia Torr. collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Taxonomy

Tufted Milkweed (Asclepias nummularia) was originally named and described by John Torrey, an American botanist, in 1859. The description was based on a specimen from New Mexico (Wooten and Standley 1915). This species has kept the same 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, nummularia, is Latin for “like a coin” (Wikipedia), apparently in reference to the leaves.

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name describes the growing habit of the plant. Another common name is money milkweed (Asclepias nummularia) (Jones 1950), hence the species name.

Physical Description of Tufted Milkweed (Asclepias nummularia)

Plant of tufted milkweed (Asclepias nummularia) with pink flowers.
Plant of Tufted Milkweed in Rocks — Asclepias nummularia Torr. observed in United States of America by henrya (licensed under CC0 1.0)

Description

  • Plant Type: This plant is a herbaceous perennial
  • Height: 0.15 to 0.3 feet
  • Stem: The stem is ascending to decumbent (Woodson 1954).
  • Leaves: The leaves are opposite, short-petiolate, simple, and ovate to lanceolate in shape. The leaves are 0.5 to 2 inches long and about 0.4 to 2 inches wide. The leaves are membranaceous to subsucculent (Woodson 1954).
  • Flower color: greenish-white (Baird, et al 1859), white (Jones 1950) purple, to rose
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from March to August.
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant has follicles that mature in the late summer and fall.

Range of Tufted Milkweed (Asclepias nummularia) in the United States and Canada

Range map of tufted milkweed (Asclepias nummularia) 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 southwestern United States and northern Mexico.

Habitat

Dry grassland in American west.
Dry Grassland — “Comanche National Grassland” by cm195902 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

This species grows on dry grasslands with gravel or clay, rocky places, pinyon-juniper woodlands. It is also described from scrub grassland and oak woodland (Verrier 2018).

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 Tufted Milkweed (Asclepias nummularia)

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

How is this plant distinguished from other milkweeds?

This species is similar to the nodding milkweed (Asclepias glaucescens), but the stem of tufted milkweed is much shorter and the leaves are about as broad as long. The short stature also separates this plant from the pallid milkweed (Asclepias cryptoceras) (Kearney and Peebles 1942).

Is this plant invasive?

This plant has not been described as invasive in the literature.

Gardening with Tufted Milkweed (Asclepias nummularia)

Close-up of Pink flowers of tufted milkweed (Asclepias nummularia).
Pink Flowers of Tufted Milkweed — Asclepias nummularia Torr. observed in United States of America by Patrick Alexander (licensed under CC0 1.0)

Hardiness

This species is hardy in zones 8-10. 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 grows best in places where it can receive full sun and has dry soil.

References

  • Baird, Spencer Fullerton, et al. 1859. Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey Made under the Direction of the Secretary of the Interior. (Washington, DC: US DOI).
  • Jones, Julia. 1950. Wild Pot Herbs of Texas. Texas Journal of Science 2: 400-404.
  • Kearney, Thomas H. and Robert H. Peebles. 1942. Flowering Plants and Ferns of Arizona. (Washington, DC: USDA) No. 423.
  • Singhurst, Jason and Ben Hutchins. 2015. Identification of Milkweeds in Texas. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and Texas Parks and Wildlife.
  • Verrier, James T. 2018. Annotated Flora of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Pima and Pinal Counties, Southeastern Arizona. Desert Plants 33 (1): 5-291.
  • Woodson, Robert E. 1954. The North American Species of Asclepias L. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 41: 1-211.
  • Wooten, E.O. and Paul C. Standley. 1915. Flora of New Mexico. Contributions from the United States National Herbarium v. 19.
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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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