Swamp Milkweed is a native perennial that grows to about 4’ tall. Similar to common milkweed in structure, it blooms slightly later which allows for a longer milkweed blooming season. Like other Asclepias, this is a larval hose to the Monarch butterfly, and is pollinated by many other butterflies and bees as well. We’ve had at least 15 Monarch Caterpillars on a single plant in our micro-prairie. It has gorgeous pink/white blooms that are long lasting (~ 1 month).
Swamp Milkweed Facts
The name Asclepias is for the Ancient Greek God of medicine Asklepios
Native Americans used this and other types of milkweed as medicine for a variety of ailments
This milkweed is a ‘clay-buster’, as it can grow really well in heavy wet clay soil
This is a larval hose for Monarch Butterflies
The Scientific Name of Swamp Milkweed is Asclepias Incarnata
General Description and growing conditions of Swamp Milkweed
Leaves and Stalk
Swamp milkweed is similar to common milkweed in that it has an un-branched stalk (except for flowering area) and opposite leaves. The primary differences between Swamp Milkweed and Common milkweed is that Swamp Milkweed only spreads via seeds, not rhizomes. Also Swamp Milkweeds leaves are a bit smaller, being 2.5” – 6” long and a bit narrower, as well as coming to a point instead of being rounded. I’ve noticed that the leaves of Swamp Milkweed turn a nice purple color in Fall.
Swamp Milkweed will produce several clusters (umbels) of ¼” flowers that are very detailed and intricate.
After blooming, pods will form at the base of the flowers that contain the seeds. These pods will be several inches long by ½ inch wide. Once the pods turn brown and have dried, they will begin to split open and release seeds to the wind. If you wish to harvest seeds, you can do so once the pods are brown you can collect the pods. Another method of saving pods is to place a small rubber band around the pods while they are still green. This will prevent pods from splitting open and releasing seeds.
Swamp Milkweed Growing Conditions
This plant needs full sun or partial sun and moist soil to thrive. Partial sun generally will result in smaller plants with fewer flowers. As hinted at by the name, this plant likes to have wet feet (moist soil). Planting this on dry sites will be unlikely at having much success in survival.
I have 5 plants in our backyard prairie, and they are thriving. This is a heavy clay soil, but stays fairly moist as it is at the end of a long slope.
This is an ornamental plant that can grow where many others cannot. That being said, planting it at the bottom of slopes or low spots will yield healthier plants. I use mine in our microprairie, at the back of the slope, as the ground is moister in that particular location.
But, Swamp Milkweed is not invasive, so it can be planted as a specimen or clustered in borders or other areas. Just remember, the more plants you have should mean better likelihood of attracting Monarch Butterflies. Swamp Milkweed blooms for approximately 1 month, making it a longer-blooming perennial.
To grow Swamp Milkweed from seed, cold stratify in a moist paper towel in the refrigerator for 2 months, stored in a zip lock bag. Alternatively, you could direct sow in the fall, or winter sow the seeds. I generally winter sow, as that is the easiest if you are trying to get a set number of plants.
Sow the seeds directly onto the soil, lightly covering. The seeds generally do better in a firm seedbed. After germination, grow the plants until they are several inches tall then plant out into the garden.
As an aside, this plant has been found to have one of the highest seed production rates of all plants in the Milkweed family Asclepias. So if you are able to locate a population, it should not be hard to collect an abundance of seed!
Faunal Associations of Swamp Milkweed
This plant attracts dozens of insects for pollination and feeding on the leaves. Here are just a few examples of what you can expect to see if you grow a healthy population of Swamp Milkweed;
This plant will get aphids, just like other milkweeds. If infestation is severe, use a garden hose, and while holding the stalk with one hand use the garden hose to knock of the aphids. Alternatively, you can use a soapy water mix to kill the aphids. I personally don’t do anything to my plants, as the aphids will attract lady bugs eventually.
Swamp Milkweed uses
Warning! Swamp Milkweed is toxic in its raw form. Unless you have been trained in the proper way to prepare young shoots, stalks, buds – don’t eat this plant.
Like common milkweed, Swamp Milkweed has been used for thousands of years by Native American tribes to treat various ailments. Primarily they used the root to generate an infusion for treating ailments ranging from infant naval after birth, lung problems, etc.
The fibers of Swamp Milkweed stalks can be used to make rope/cordage and woven into cloth. As with Common Milkweed, wait until the stalks are brown/dry and can be broken off at the base. Once dry, remove the outer layer by hand, then weave the fibers into a cloth. Or, you can twist the fibers opposite to make rope.
A really interesting use for Swamp Milkweed was that it helped the Allies win World War II! The parachutes that are attached to each seed in the seed pods were used in World War Two to fill life jackets for the Allies. This is because the feathery parachutes are much more buoyant than cork and other materials. Additionally, the feathers can be used to stuff pillows, as they are quite soft.