Calotropis Procera

A Milkweed Tree To Feed Them All

Calotropis procera: Rooster tree, Sodom apple, Rubber bush, Swallow-wort, Milkweed tree

Double Duty Milkweed Plant- Calotropis procera is a milkweed tree that is both a host plant and nectar flower for monarchs, as you can tell from this evidence in this picture...
For Caterpillar…and Butterfly!

Plant Specs:

  • Perennial: USDA hardiness zones 9a-11 (lows -6.7 °C or 20 °F)
  • Annual in colder zones
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Height: up to 15 feet
  • Spacing: at least 6 feet, 15′ for perennials
  • Flowers: maroon, purple, white
  • Velvety silvery-gray leaves
  • Blooms all season
Monarch Caterpillars love dining on the thick leaves of Calotropis procera, but the showy flowers bloom all season long and provide nectar to monarchs, hummingbirds, and more...
Dining Room Centerpiece

Pros:

  • Constant blooms provide monarchs an all season nectar source
  • Large, thick leaves can sustain more caterpillars
  • Caterpillars don’t need to crawl away to pupate
  • Great option for adventurous gardeners looking to try something new
  • Fragrant flowers (unlike its wider known relative Calotropis gigantea)
A monarch caterpillar can safely form its chrysalis on the thick branches of rooster tree milkweed.
Milkweed Tree Convenience

Cons:

  • Not enough data from North America – needs to be monitored for potential problems
  • Prone to aphids like most species…again, keep an eye on your plants.
  • Has been reported to be invasive in India and Africa
  • It’s non-native so also plant native milkweed varieties to support your local ecosystem (Monarchs will use both native and non-native varieties)
Calotropis procera is a lesser known milkweed that supports monarch butterflies all season long with its beautiful multi-colored blooms.
Beautiful Bouquet of Milkweed

Plant Propagation Options:

  • Start seeds indoors 2 months before final frost
  • Sow seeds directly after final frost
  • Seed Starting- use peat moss mix with vermiculite, perlite, or both
  • Sow seeds directly after final frost in annual zones
  • Sow seeds directly in perennial zones
  • Soak seeds in warm water 24 hours before planting
  • Use afor faster germination
  • Propagate from softwood stem cuttings. This also allows you to start the season with larger plants. Our plants did not flower in year 1 starting seeds.
Calotropis procera serves two purposes in your butterfly garden. It's a host milkweed plant for monarch caterpillars, and nectar flower for butterflies and other beneficial pollinators.
Starting to Seed | © Forest and Kim Starr

Calotropis Procera Growing Tips:

Overwintering Calotropis Procera Indoors- have sufficient drainage from your container and keep the soil for this milkweed variety on the dry side.

Then, after a couple months of hot summer sun and some slow release fertilizer

Calotropis procera- this tropical milkweed variety grows well in containers with lots of sun, good drainage, and some slow release fertilizer.
Calotropis in Containers
  • Overwinter in pots for annual zones.
  • If you don’t want additional seedlings next spring, simply cut off the seed pods before they pop open or bind them shut with twist ties or rubber bands if you want to collect  milkweed tree seeds. Seeding is less likely to be an issue for those below USDA hardiness zone 8.
Open Milkweed Pod Calotropis Procera
Seeds Of Hope

Pollinator Plus:

Nature photographer Maria Firpi says to keep an eye out for hummingbirds and bees!

This section is a work in progress because there are so few North American “gardening” reports about this milkweed species. If you have experience growing procera, please comment below to shed some light on this mysterious milkweed.

note: this is not Calotropis gigantea (giant milkweed), but you can click here to leave comments on that species.

Resources:

1. Buy Calotropis Procera Seeds

Click here for More Milkweed Ideas to Enhance your Monarch Butterfly Garden

Most of the photos above are courtesy of nature photographer Maria Firpi. Her blog features flora and fauna located in Puerto Rico and South Florida. Check it out here.

Comments

  1. Sharon says

    I just received some of these seeds from Hawaii and will let you know how they do! I am in Florida !

      • Sharon says

        I soaked my seeds overnight and planted them Sunday. I already have two seeds sprouting! Fingers crossed ……

        • Sharon says

          I have 16 sprouts now! Wow! This sprouted amazingly fast! I plant to keep all of them potted and on our porch until our last frost in February of 2015. I have never seen one of these trees. I will plan my butterfly garden around these trees. So exciting! A tad tired of the tropical milkweed here in FL.

          • Christina says

            do you have any more of these? I live in Florida too. I have so many tropical milkweeds and one giant milkweed plant but no seeds from it. I am not sure if its the same plant as yours. Mine isn’t called a tree?? Let me know thanks.

            Christina

          • says

            Hi Christina, Calotropis gigantea (giant milkweed) may be what you’re growing. That is more commonly sold in nurseries throughout Florida. If you can’t find “procera” locally I would try seeds. good luck!

  2. Ashley says

    Looking forward to more info on these.

    Has anyone grown either of the “giant” milkweeds (Calotropis gigantea or procera) totally indoors under artificial lighting? – Would have to grow something like this indoors here all year around…

    It sure sounds like the huge leaves of Calotropis might make things easier as an abundant host food for monarch cats. (One Calotropis vs several tropicals to deal with…) But wondering about container size, and how fast they grow/keeping the “tree” size manageable (pruning).

    • says

      Ashley, I don’t know anyone else that grows these in pots so we are the guinea pigs! The only one that died indoors was in a pot with poor drainage. Two more died outdoors during our wet spring.

      They have grown like molasses in Minnesota, but hoping the big one will flower in August. The reason I wanted to try procera is because it’s both host and nectar plant. We have gotten several eggs on it this season. I am bringing in both of ours over winter again…

      Your vision of ‘one tropical to feed them all’ sounds much more feasible in Florida. Please keep us posted!

      • David L. Z 5b NW MO says

        I will be growing this next year for the first time. I will have ~ 20 types of milkweed next year and am also considering Calotropis gigantea. Am wintering over 7 Tropical MW under lights in the basement.

          • David L. Z 5b NW MO says

            Hopefully next year :-) I got a late start this year and only had 5 plants total of 3 types. Also I am in an urban area and there are NO milkweed plants near by that I have seen.

    • Gina Charpentier says

      Ashley,
      I started with 3 inch tall plant in April 2014 in my greenhouse planted in a one gallon pot. It quickly outgrew that pot so put into a 5 gallon. Now it is over five to six feet tall! It almost reaches the top of my greenhouse, it has bloomed nonstop and the caterpillars love it. I live in the high desert, in the winter it can get well below freezing. I will keep it In the heated greenhouse over the winter and cross my fingers. I love this plant/tree?

  3. Josh says

    I just started some indoors in Oregon. We only have two months of sun left so this is poor/impatient planning on my part but what the hey. I will baby them all winter and put them outside next year when our rains stop.

  4. Inger says

    I would like to know how to start Giant Milkweed from cuttings, I just came back from Puerto Rico and brought 4 cuttings, about 5″ back, I put them in water, but how do I go from here? I live in Nothern Virginia, so if I get them going they would have to go into pots, not a problem, since I have a greenhouse to overwinter them in, I just need to know what the next step is and if it possible to grow them from cuttings
    Thanks.
    Inger

    • says

      Hi Inger, the only people I’ve spoken to that have had success rooting giant milkweed have used rooting hormone powder and planted directly in pots filled with organic peat. You need to stake each cutting with something like a small wood stake and attach with a twist tie so the cutting stays upright while it establishes a root system. good luck!

    • Darlene says

      Hi there,
      I live in Hawaii and have over 100 pots of these plants. We call them Crown Flower plants and make lei with the flowers. After soaking the cuttings for a week or two, dip the end of the cutting into a rooting hormone and plant in potting soil. I have about a 75% success rate in growing the plants in my butterfly garden.

      I hope this helps!
      Darlene

      • says

        Thanks Darlene…propagation tips are very much appreciated for these “newer” milkweed species. I will definitely be trying out your propagation technique on our established plants this season.

  5. Vernon Bush says

    Hello,
    the link above leads to seed for Calotropis gigantean not the proceia variety. could a source for the Proceia be posted

    Thank you

    • says

      Hi Vernon, the only source I know for procera seeds is currently sold out. I link to ebay because there are so many vendors that sell seeds through them (both businesses and gardeners), that it’s only a matter of time before procera seeds are listed again. Please check back…

      • Azucena says

        I purchased seeds about a year ago from smartsseedstore in Claremont, Ca. I seldom had caterpillars on mine feeding. The flowers are beautiful. Maybe this year Monarchs will lay eggs on my two plants that are about two feet tall.

        • says

          We have gotten eggs on ours the past two seasons in Minnesota. The first year on tiny seedlings and last year on plants a couple feet tall. This is with lots of other options in the garden…I was afraid the Minnesota monarchs might not know what it was!What type of pollinators are you attracting on the west coast with this variety?

    • tim says

      I’ve just ordered procera seeds on Amazon @100/$5.00 Shipped from Guadalupe in the West Indies. Monarchs overwinter in my area on naturalized eucalyptus trees. Their ability to find host plants is amazing but not extraordinary for hexapods.

  6. Sharon says

    Just a quick update ….I started mine in July 2014 from seeds…..I am down to 6 plants….. they are all approx. 6-8 inches tall…..they are in either corrugated garden bins or pots……two of them have had Monarch cats nibble on them a bit…..I have had a few aphids on one……they are doing well and definitely add character to my butterfly garden!

  7. says

    Is there a difference between a giant milkweed and a giant milkweed tree? This weekend a seedling of a giant milkweed was gifted to the Waystation, but I haven’t had time to really research it. I’m wondering if this is what it is or if I’ve got a different plant.

  8. Betsy Larey says

    I just bought 2 acres next to my house in White Bear Lake MN. I saw a monarch in my garden last summer. I want to plant a garden/trees on the property for monarchs. The soil is not great. Can you recommend a) what to plant and b) anything I can do for the soil?
    Thanks very much for any help anyone can provide
    Betsy Larey

  9. Sharon says

    I wanted to let everyone know that my seedlings are about 12 inches tall and monarch caterpillars love to munch on them. I know have Monarchs laying eggs on them and cats going into chrysalis on one!

  10. Crunch Hardtack says

    Hi Tony-

    I recently purchased C. procera seeds from Mia Myers, owner of SmartSeeds. She sells 10 seeds for $3.99. I received them within a few days, all 11 seeds plump, clean, and healthy looking.

    The seeds are planted indoors in peat containers filled with a commercial peat/perlite mixture inside a plastic mini greenhouse set on a heating mat, with t5 grow lights suspended above and placed next to a sunny window. Can’t wait to see my little babies sprout!

    I live in a mobile home park in SoCal whose tiny yard consists of cacti and succulents with decorative gravel and some well placed rocks. My butterfly garden is all growing in various sized containers, so I feel that C. procera may be a challenge size wise. With periodic plant and root pruning, it should live long and prosper (tribute to Leonard Nimoy) inside a large pot.

    I’ll keep you posted as to how they are doing. My USDA zone lies between 9a/9b, so they should last at least to the next real cold snap (For my region; not even comparing to yours! ) for my area. The Gomphocarpus physocarpus plants I have made it past a couple of 28°-29° frosts we experienced here. Hopefully, C. procera will fare as well.

    • says

      Hi Crunch,

      I bought seeds through her on eBay a while back and all 10 of my seeds sprouted so hopefully you will have the same success. In Minnesota are physocarpus is the last milkweed variety that goes down each season. Of course, it doesn’t come back here so we overwinter indoors. Keep us posted on your procera seedlings!

      • Crunch Hardtack says

        Hi Tony-

        Update on the C. procera seeds: as of today, all 11 of them have germinated. The first few germinated within 4 days, which really surprised me, as I figured the first to pop up wouldn’t be until at least day 7. Gotta love these kind of surprises!

  11. Idris says

    Hi,
    I am looking for the leaves of Calotropis procera , if any one has any idea how can I get the leaves please let me know. Thanks

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