Asclepias Exaltata

Poke Milkweed for Monarch Caterpillars and Pollinators

Asclepias exaltata common names: Poke Milkweed, Tall Milkweed

Asclepias exaltata (poke milkweed) has weeping flowers and is a host plant for monarch caterpillars. It grows well in moist soil and partial shade. Is this a good milkweed option for your butterfly garden?

Asclepias Exaltata Plant Specs

  • Perennial Zone: for USDA hardiness zones 3a-9b (lows -39.9 °C or -40 °F)
  • Native Plant: Eastern US and Canada (Al, Ar, Ct, De, DC, Ga, Il, In, Ia, Ks, Ky, Me, Md, Ma, Mi, Mn, Ms, Ne, NH, NJ, NY, NC, Oh, Pa, RI, SC, SD, Tn, Va, WV, Wi, ON, QC)
  • Fast growing annual for colder zones
  • Full sun to part shade to full shade- leaves grow larger in moist shade
  • Height: 4 to 6 feet (can grow larger)
  • Spacing: 2 to 3 ft
  • Foliage: thin, wavy, sharp tip leaves with milky sap
  • Fertile Flowers: white, purplish color, weeping, and fragrant with unique, purple tone long pedicel to each flower
  • Blooms early summer
  • Commonly found in favorable conditions: by roadsides, waterways, woodland borders, woodland slopes, upland rocky woodlands, sandy woodlands, woodland openings

Asclepias exaltata Pros

  • Popular nectar flower with many butterflies
  • Commonly used host plant for monarch butterflies
  • Can be grown in partial shade
  • Drooping flowers are unique like fading fireworks
  • This species is not invasive or aggressive
  • Individual plants can survive for decades
Poke milkweed's weeping blooms are a great place for monarch caterpillars to eat, rest, or molt. More info about growing Asclepias exaltata in your garden...
Poking Through

Asclepias Exaltata Cons

  • Rabbits have been relentless eating down our second year poke plants in Minnesota…hoping this changes as the milkweed patch becomes more mature.
  • Aphids are milkweed pests to poke and most milkweed species
  • Less Showy flowers compared to other asclepias spp like asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed)
Which other milkweed species has a lot in common with poke milkweed?
Click here for the answer
Poke milkweed might not have the showiest flowers in the butterfly garden, but it's a good host plant for monarch butterflies and is one of the few milkweed varieties that grows better in partial shade. Get more info and seeds...
Poke Stalk | © Homer Edward Price

Asclepias Exaltata Plant Propagation

poke milkweed propagation- start seeds indoors or sow directly after a 4-6 week cold moist stratification in your refrigerator. More Asclepias exaltata photos and info...
Small Pokes

Poke Milkweed Growing Conditions Tips

  • Leaves grow larger in partial sun and moist soil, but can also be grown in full sun
  • Has been reported to hybridize with Ascelpias syriaca (common milkweed) when planted in close proximity
  • If starting indoors, use full spectrum plant lights or a small oscillating clip fanir?t=monabuttgard 20&l=ur2&o=1 asclepias exaltata to promote strong stems
  • Grow this as a back border so it doesn’t shade your other butterfly plants
  • Staking may be required if not cut back in perennial zones
  • Cut Me- 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, rubber bands, or organza bags if you want to collect poke milkweed seeds.
Asclepias exaltata is a more common milkweed in woodlands and lake shores, but since it is reported to have a non-invasive growth habit, we're giving it a go in the butterfly garden. More info and pictures...

Pollinator Plus

Poke milkweed also attracts bumble bees, great spangled fritillaries, pearl crescents, tiger swallowtails, skippers and more beneficial pollinators and insects…(if you know others, please comment below)

Buy Asclepias Exaltata Plants for Sale and Seeds

Always purchase milkweed seeds and plants by botanical (scientific) name. Asclepias exaltata’s common name, poke milkweed, is often confused with pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) because of the similar names. Find the right milkweed below:

  1. Ascelpias Exaltata Seeds

  2. Find Poke Milkweed Plants and Seeds at Joyful Butterfly

Click here to Explore More Milkweed Options for your Butterfly Garden

Please post below if you have any questions or comments about growing Asclepias exaltata (poke milkweed) in your garden:
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28 Comments

  1. Hi Tony,
    I have acquired a single poke milkweed plant from another Monarch gardener in my area. I am curious if it is a self fertile plant. It is a first year plant so I’m sure it will be 1 or even 2 more years before I have my own seed supply. Keep up the good work!

    1. Hi David, all you need is one and a few pollinators and you should have plenty of seed growing forward…good luck!

  2. I have poke milkweed pods my husband picked before they burst open. He thought he was doing me a favor by doing so. Will the seeds/pods mature even though they have already been picked off the plant? I looked at one of the pods and the seeds are white and I pretty sure they are suppose to be brown seeds.

  3. I have wild milkweed that comes up every year within my shrubs behind my house. I have never seen it bloom until this year after cutting it back. The blooms were small, white, and didn’t last long. The seed pods look like string beans! Is this common milkweed?

  4. All of my poke milkweed is turning yellow, and eventually the leaves are just falling off. New growth out of the ground looks fine so far, but what was originally on the plant when I transplanted them is all dying – even the flowers just shrivel and fall off without forming a pod. Is it possible they are getting too much shade? The one in the darkest spot was the first to go. The ground is moist, so perhaps the problem is too much water? Any ideas?

    1. Hi Jessica, this is the first year we’ve had mature poke milkweed since putting up rabbit fencing. It’s fading very early and already has milkweed pods. I am going to try cutting some of it back to see if it puts out new growth, but this seems like a milkweed species that probably peaks in spring. If yours isn’t forming any pods, you might try transplanting some to a sunnier spot. good luck!

  5. Do Monarch butterflies utilize Poke milkweed for egg laying?

  6. Is it too late at this point to plant poke milkweed in Massachusetts? Thanks!

    1. Hi Mabel, as long as the seeds have been cold most stratified for at least a month you can try planting them. if not, just wait until fall and let winter give them a natural cold stratification:

      Cold Moist Stratification

  7. Do you have photos of polk milkweed seedlings? I started a lot of natives from seed, but my tags did not stand up to winter weather so I don’t know what’s what. Have some common milkweed in the mix, too. Going to be working on a monarch waystation shortly.

    1. Hi Holly,

      I read your comment about your plant tags not holding up. May I suggest you give tags made from the plastic (or even the aluminum) mini blinds a try. The material is easily cut with a pair of scissors, you can cut them to any length, make one end pointed if you like and if you use a dark carbon lead pencil to write with on these home made plant markers, the writing will hold up through the seasons. Some people use a paint pen, which works beautifully, but they are a bit costly and for me, dry out during a season once they’ve been opened. Pencil works very well for me.

      A small plastic mini blind can be purchased from Wal-Mart for less than $3.00. This one small blind will make many, many markers at a fraction of the cost of purchased plant markers. I live in the hot SE and these markers last well for me.

      There is also an excellent thread on the Houzz garden forum (used to be GardenWeb) where many different suggestions are offered. Gardeners are a clever group! 🙂

      Good luck with your Butterfly garden.

      Mary

  8. What are good nectar plants for the poke milkweed that likes it shady?

    1. Hi Laurel, we grow swamp milkweed in partial shade…that’s a popular host and nectar plant for monarchs. Verbena bonariensis grows well in part shade too. We recently moved a joe pye weed into partial shade and it seems happy in its new location. Hope one of those ideas works for you…

      Swamp milkweed

  9. Usually under the cons section there is something about aphids. Obviously, milkweed naturally attracts them, but is this one somehow less prone to aphids?

    1. Hi, aphids are a pest on most varieties of milkweed, but less so on a variety like Tuberosa, which doesn’t contain the milky sap they are seeking. We will have mature poke milkweed this season, and I will be sure to update any aphid info. If you want to try to repel them naturally, you might try using allium as a companion plant:

      Summer Beauty Allium

  10. Tony,
    Your picture of the Poke milkweed is wonderful! May I have your permission to include it in the Power Point I am creating on butterfly gardening?

    I love your instructions for winter planting milkweed seeds in milk jugs. I did it last winter and had great success. Presently, I have a dozen jugs sitting in a snow bank….last weekend’s snowfall buried them! Wish I had some Poke MW seeds to plant!!!

    1. Hi Judy, it’s a public domain picture that I edited for the website. Feel free to use it, but also credit the name linked below the photo as the actual photographer.

      As for finding poke milkweed seeds, there are some available if you click the resources link at the bottom of this page.

      Good luck with your power point!

  11. does this like to grow in with poke weed? i have a wild greens garden and several plants of poke.

    1. Hi Dorlis,

      are you asking if poke milkweed can be grown with pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)? If so, I’ve never grown pokeweed so the all I can recommend is that you try adding a couple poke milkweeds and see how they fare. You can always transplant later if the experiment isn’t successful…good luck!

  12. can I dig poke milk weed and transplant? It is now September 2,2014 and I am in Ohio…………I just found a plant growing under one of my trees. I would like to keep it to add to next years garden. Thank you for any info.

    1. Hi Greg,

      I am actually transplanting ours because they got swallowed up by the Mexican sunflowers. Fall is a good time for planting and transplanting because the extreme heat has subsided, but there’s still room for roots to get acclimated. Make sure you dig deep enough to get the entire root system (or most of it). Make sure the soil remains moist for the first couple weeks after transplanting. If the plants still look stressed after a few days, you can also cut stems and foliage back. If the plants are mature, try cutting stems and foliage back (and water thoroughly) a couple days before transplanting.

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