showy milkweed

(Asclepias speciosa)

Conservation Status
showy milkweed
  IUCN Red List

not listed


NNR - Unranked

SNR - Unranked


not listed

Wetland Indicator Status
  Great Plains

FAC - Facultative


FAC - Facultative

  Northcentral & Northeast

FAC - Facultative


Showy milkweed is an erect, perennial forb that rises from a deep rhizome. It often forms colonies. The leaves and stems are velvety and contain a milky juice.

The stems are erect, usually unbranched, and hairy.

The leaves are opposite, untoothed, 2½ to 8 long, up to 4 wide, and egg-shaped. They have pointed tips and rounded bases. They are attached to the stem on short leaf stalks. There are conspicuous veins running from the midrib to the edge. The lower surface is hairy.

The inflorescence is one or more loose, umbrella-shaped clusters (umbels) rising from the upper leaf axils and at the end of the stem. The clusters are 2 to 3 in diameter and are on a 1 to 3 long, woolly, stalk. They typically have 10 to 20 flowers.

The structure of the typical milkweed flower is unique and instantly recognizable. There are 5 petals bent backward at the base and hanging downward. Subtending the petals are 5 much shorter, light green, lance-shaped sepals. There are 5 stamens. Formed from the filament of each stamen is a petal-like appendage. The appendage consists of a tubular hood surrounding an awl-shaped horn in the center of the hood. The stamens and the stigma are fused together into a crown-like structure (gynostegium). Each stigma has a long slit designed to catch the legs of a pollinating insect. A small, dark, sticky gland above this slit is attached to pollen sacs from adjacent anthers. These glands are designed to break off as an insect pulls its leg free of the slit, and remain attached to the insects leg. The flowers are pollinated by larger insects strong enough to lift off with the pollen sacs attached. Smaller insects are caught in a death trap or leave behind their detached legs.

The flowers of this plant are shaped like the typical milkweed flower but are larger than those of any other milkweed. They are ¾ to 1½ tall, ½ to 1 wide, and are attached on ⅜ to 1⅛ long stalks. The petals are pink or reddish purple. They bend backward at the base, hang downward, then curl upward near the tip. They are attached directly below the hoods without a separating column. The hoods are to long and abruptly narrowed below the middle to an linear to oblong tip, and are taller than the gynostegium. Collectively, the hoods are in the shape of a 5-pointed star. They are white or the same color as the petals but much paler. The horns are shorter than the hoods. They project from the hoods and are curved inwards. There is little or no fragrance.

The fruit is a fat, spindle-shaped pod. It is 2¾to 4¾long and ¾ to 1½ thick. It is densely warty and densely covered with white, wooly hairs. It is held erect or ascending on an erect stalk. It opens on one side exposing the seeds to spreading by the wind. The seeds have a tuft of hairs at the tip that are whitish and about 1 long.




12 to 36


Flower Color


Pink or reddish purple


Similar Species




Moist. Prairies. Full sun.




June to August


Faunal Associations


Milkweeds are the only plants that Monarchs lay their eggs on. The eggs are laid on the underside of healthy young leaves.




This and other milkweeds contain cardiac glycosides and may be poisonous to both humans and livestock.


Pests and Diseases






Distribution Map



2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 24, 28, 29, 30.








Locally common but not abundamt

  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Magnoliopsida (flowering plants)  
  Superorder Asteranae  


Gentianales (gentians, dogbanes, madders, and allies)  


Apocynaceae (dogbane)  
  Subfamily Asclepiadoideae (milkweeds)  
  Tribe Asclepiadeae  
  Subtribe Asclepiadinae  


Asclepias (milkweeds)  

Subordinate Taxa






Asclepias douglasii

Asclepias giffordii


Common Names


greek milkweed

showy milkweed













The upper angle where the leaf stalk meets the stem.



A crown-like structure of plants of the genus Asclepias formed by the fusion of the anthers with the stigmas.



Long, straight, and narrow, with more or less parallel sides, like a blade of grass.



A horizontal, usually underground stem. It serves as a reproductive structure, producing roots below and shoots above at the nodes.



A flat-topped or convex, umbrella-shaped cluster of flowers or buds arising from more or less a single point.

Visitor Photos

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Dan W. Andree


Blooming Milkweed....Sandpiper Prairie SNA...

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Visitor Videos

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Other Videos
  Showy Milkweed.mp4

Uploaded on Sep 1, 2011

This video is part of the Upstream hiking series that can be read in the Greenway Foundation's monthly newsletter. Read the original article here:

  Bee pollinators on Showy Milkweed (Asclepias specosia)

Published on Jun 8, 2014

This video is about Bee pollinators on Showy Milkweed (Asclepias specosia). Filmed at Mayberry Park Reno Nevada June 8th 2014.




Visitor Sightings

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  Dan W. Andree

Location: Sandpiper Prairie SNA

Blooming Milkweed

showy milkweed  






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