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Close-up of Showy Milkweed flower (Asclepias speciosa). One of 100+ species of Pacific Northwest native plants available at Sparrowhawk Native Plants, Native Plant Nursery in Portland, Oregon.
Showy Milkweed flower (Asclepias speciosa). One of 100+ species of Pacific Northwest native plants available at Sparrowhawk Native Plants, Native Plant Nursery in Portland, Oregon.
Close-up of Showy Milkweed flower (Asclepias speciosa). One of 100+ species of Pacific Northwest native plants available at Sparrowhawk Native Plants, Native Plant Nursery in Portland, Oregon.

Showy Milkweed

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Asclepias speciosa

Showy milkweed is a robust perennial that is pure magic for pollinators - especially butterflies. It’s pink, firework-shaped flowers are an incredible nectar source that attracts an array of bees and butterflies, it’s large blue-green leaves provide food for larval caterpillars, and the plant's alkaloid compounds boost butterflies' resistance to predators. In a region with relatively small populations of butterflies, due to our generally cloudy climate, Showy Milkweed supports our local butterflies, while rewarding us gardeners with glimpses of their elegance. 

  • Plant type/canopy layer: deciduous perennial herbaceous plant
  • Size at maturity: 36" - 48", spreads laterally by rhizomes forming dense patches
  • Light requirements: full to mostly sunny
  • Moisture requirements: dry to moist, well-drained soil
  • Bloom time: June - July
  • Growth rate/ease: moderate growth rate, easy to grow 
  • Wildlife support: supports adult butterflies/nectar source, bees and other insect pollinators, beneficial insects/pest eating insects, caterpillar host plant/larval food source, hummingbirds (Oregon Flora Project)
  • Native habitat/range: Valleys, roadsides, fields, disturbed areas up to 1600 meters in most areas of the state plus CA, ID, NV, WA; north to British Columbia, northeast to Manitoba, east to MI, southeast to TX. Portland Plant List - no.
  • Special features & uses: important plant for pollinators, specifically butterflies

Gardening with Showy Milkweed: Showy Milkweed prefers sunny to partially-sunny conditions with dry, well-drained soils - but it can tolerate moisture and even seasonal flooding if the water is fast-draining. It can also handle some drought once established. It is generally intolerant of root disturbance and can be slow growing at first. But, once established, it spreads aggressively by rhizomes and may form dense colonies, particularly in roadside ditches and other wild areas. Foliage dies back completely in winter, and emerges late the next spring in April or May, often one of the last to come up in a perennial flower bed.

Seed Packets Contain: approx 50 seeds

Seed Sowing instructions: Can be fall, spring, or summer sown. Newly germinated seedlings are frost sensitive so mid-late spring to early summer sowing is suggested. Protect new seedlings if frost threatens. Mature plants come up in late in the spring.

Stratification: none

Planting depth: : 1/4” - just to cover

Seeding rate:

  • Broadcasting: approx 20 seeds/sq ft
  • Small pots: 3-5 seeds per pot
  • Spots in situ: 3-5 seeds per spot


Photo Credit 1: "Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) Seedskadee NWR" by USFWS Mountain Prairie is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Photo Credit 2: "Asclepias speciosa--RPBG--9 June 2007" by John Rusk is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Photo Credit 3: "Asclepias speciosa" by Matt Lavin is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0