Prairie or Sullivant’s Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii) is worth considering as a garden alternative to Common Milkweed (A. syriaca). A key difference is that Prairie Milkweed is much less aggressive, in fact in my garden it has been fairly slow to establish.

Another difference is that the individual flowers of Prairie Milkweed are larger, and I like the pink/purple-white two tone effect. The flowers on Common Milkweed, though, are more numerous and have a stronger fragrance. The leaves of Prairie Milkweed are hairless.

Prairie Milkweed likes moist-to-medium fertile soil and full sun. In my garden it is growing a bit under 4′, shorter than Common Milkweed, but I’ve read that it tends to grow 2-3′ in the wild. It stands upright, does not need staking, and is more tolerant of dryer soils than Rose or Swamp Milkweed (A. incarnata).

In addition to being a host plant for Monarch Butterflies, Prairie Milkweed attracts many pollinators and is a valuable plant for native bees. Even so, according to the Illinois Wildflower website, the flowers do not fertilize easily. And in fact it doesn’t have any seed pods in my garden this year, but it is reblooming without any cutting back.

Illinois Wildflowers says Prairie Milkweed is “uncommon to occasional” in most Illinois counties, but not present in others. It is listed as a threatened species in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. I have never seen it for sale at a garden center, but the online nurseries Prairie Moon and Prairie Nursery both carry it.

If you want something with a look similar to Common Milkweed but without the aggression, Prairie Milkweed is worth considering.

27 Comments on “An Uncommon Milkweed”

  1. Jason, for several years I tried several different types of milkweed, including prairie. It didn’t settle in for me. In fact, the only milkweed that regularly reappears in my garden is butterfly weed. I haven’t dared try common milkweed yet because of its invasive tendencies.

    • Liz! You’re commenting! Maybe the WP ‘Happiness Engineers’ fixed the glitch, or maybe it was gremlins. Or maybe WP has hired gremlins to do all their customer service. Whatever, I’m glad to hear from you. Butterflyweed is an excellent milkweed – I love the color and the habit is easy to work with. I have not been responding so much to comments lately because the neuropathy in my hands makes typing difficult.

  2. This is a nice milkweed named for fellow Buckeye W.S. Sullivant a famous botanist noted for mosses. The plant has reddish main veins on smooth leaves with no petioles. It grows in clay and so does well in central Ohio.

  3. Hello Jason .. this is a very pretty plant that I have not seen before .. the flowers remind me of Shooting Stars ? for some reason … I only have butterfly weed but it is very consistent and quite pretty in my garden. I like that hit of orange and it has good form as well .. so an all round positive plant in my garden.
    Thanks for the info though .. you can never learn about too many plants !
    Stay as well as possible and safe from the virus !

    • Hi Jason,

      I’m one of your neighbors, who lives near Perkins Woods. A few years ago, I moved from southern California, and knew nothing about Chicago and midwest plants. Your blog has taught me a lot, and I have really enjoyed reading about your garden. I’m sorry you are unable to post at this time, and I hope are OK.

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