My Love is Like a Red, Red…


Milkweed!  Red milkweed, that is: Asclepias rubra. Despite its common name, the flowers usually are shades of pink, giving rise to a second common name: tall pink bog milkweed. On a recent visit to the Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve, most plants appeared pink rather than red, but these isolated examples of deeply saturated color seemed to meet Singhurst and Hutchins’s description of “dull red.”

Red Milkweed grows in pitcher plant bogs, seeps, and wet pine savannas from New Jersey south to Florida and west to Texas. As much as four feet tall, its terminal umbels are easily spotted above its companion plants.

Red milkweed ~ Asclepias rubra
Tall pink bog milkweed ~ also Asclepias rubra

Like other milkweed species, A. rubra already has been busy forming its attractive follicles, or seed pods. This sleek, smooth example, nearly four inches long, may have riped and released its seeds since my visit.

Comments always are welcome.

61 thoughts on “My Love is Like a Red, Red…

    1. The differences among the seedpods from species to species are interesting, and this one seems especially appealing to me. Your use of ‘elegant’ to describe it seems quite apt.

  1. I’m glad you provided the link, which led me to scroll through the milkweeds of Texas for the first time in a while. I didn’t remember that botanists call a milkweed pod a follicle. The way the stalk meets the follicle in milkweeds always seems makeshift and haphazard; couldn’t the plants have come up with a less awkward and more elegant connection?

    1. That’s such a useful page; I first used it to sort out our green milkweed from your antelope horns, and I go back to it frequently.

      I laughed at your description of the follicle attachments. They’re especially messy in the green milkweed, but even with this sleek A. rubra pod, it seems a little odd. Maybe a committee was in charge of attachments.

  2. I had not planned on feeling so stupid this morning, but after spending some time scrolling through the guide to Texas milkweeds, I was blown away by the number and variety of milkweeds that not only occur in the Big Bend region, but many found only here. I’ve been walking by those LWF’s (little white flowers) for years with not the least curiosity about their identity. You’ve given me a whole new genre of growing thing to look for now when out hiking. I’m keeping that S&H guide handy for future reference. Thanks so much, Linda.

    1. Isn’t that guide wonderful? I had the same feeling of astonishment the first time I looked through it. I had a mental image of what milkweed looked like, and I thought I knew where they thrived, but at least three-quarters of the plants in that list — and probably more — were wholly unexpected. Milkweeds usually can be recognized by their flowers, but the guide does a good job of describing other characteristics like leaves.

      I looked back at the list and found a few that you’ll have a much better chance of seeing than me. When I read that the nodding milkweed (A. glaucescens), is found in the Chisos, Davis, and Guadalupe Mountains, I thought, “That’s one for Bob!”

    1. I suppose that’s why there are so many milkweed species; they’ve adapted for particular conditions. I was lucky enough to find another species at the San Bernard Refuge: a lovely white one that was in shady, wet conditions. I finally got some decent photos of it, and I’ll be showing it soon.

      1. I still like the big lavender ones with the really big pods from up north. I would guess those might have grown where you grew up. One year when we were kids, we collected a bunch and left them in a shed. They all popped open and covered the shed with “fairies”.

      1. I have seen shades of A. tuberosa growing wild in the ditches here that vary from pale yellow to a rich, burnt orange – although none yet that echo Hello Yellow (WOW!!: )

  3. I almost tore the milkweed out of my garden. Where it grows, which is where it decided to be, not me, is not a good place and trying to dig anything out to transplant is a bit hopeless in my clay dirt. But then didn’t you post a milkweed recently? I think you — but someone did — and I thought, “well, maybe let it hang out till it blooms.” So I am.

    I hope it is as beautiful as this. The blooms are really gorgeous.

      1. The taproot will go as deep as the height of the plant, so (sadly!) one can expect successful transplantation only if they’re caught as wee babies. Seed is the slow and steady method:/ but, once you’ve got them going… : )

    1. We don’t even have them in Houston, Laurie. I still can’t get over the fact that two or three hours away there’s a world as different from our coastal prairie as the desert-like areas of west Texas. I was curious about your species, and sure enough: there was information about them courtesy of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. What a beautiful place that one is.

  4. Great find of both red and pink plants. I think I like the first one more as it’s more compact.

    I had to reread the whole cycle of the monarch migration because I felt I needed to refresh my memory. Ten years ago I watched the Butterfly film movie called ‘The Flight of the Butterflies’ which was shown in a huge dome with 3D technology (IMAX). I just found out the movie is now available in Amazon ( It is a beautiful movie. One can rent it for $3.99. It explains how Dr. Fred Urquhart discovered the location of the monarch overwintering sites in Mexico, after pursuing migrating monarchs for nearly 40 years.

    1. Several of the plants were producing flowers in sequence, as the pink one clearly is. It blooms from the beginning of May through about mid-August, so there will be plenty of opportunity to enjoy it.

      I’ve seen that film, and I know some people who’ve traveled to Mexico to witness the phenomenon. There are places even here in Texas where great clouds of the butterflies will gather during their migration. I’ve never gone to see them, but perhaps this fall I will — especially if travel elsewhere still isn’t possible. I just looked at your link, and noticed that the price has dropped — it’s only $3.28 now!

      1. At first I thought it was free of charge for the Prime members. Apparently not so, so they make you pay something. It will only last for a week though. I could complain for having it wrongly advertised, but will not do so since it’s an artistic movie.

    1. It took me forever and a day to figure out that the milkweeds a friend in Austin was photographing didn’t look like our green milkweeds because — they weren’t! They were antelope horns. When I finally found antelope horn milkweed in the hill country, I said, “Oh. Sure enough. They look just like their photos.”

      I’m not sure what I expected. They are beautiful, and several hairstreak species seem to love them.

    1. I had hoped to see butterflies on these red milkweed, but no luck. I did find them covering the pretty orange butterfly milkweed on a previous visit; the swallowtails seemed to love it.

  5. It’s a species I would love to find seeds for, either where I can lawfully harvest them or buy them. Quickly becoming a favorite!

    1. It seems a lot of people would like to grow them. Every commercial site I found said “Sold out.” I wonder if the Master Gardeners or Native Plant Society chapters in their area would have plants at their various sales? I read that they can take some time to grow from seed; getting starts might be the way to go, if they’re available.

  6. I am not quite sure which rock I have been hiding under but this is a new species of Asclepias to me! At first I thought the specific name might have been changed due to taxonomic reassignment, but no, it is a different species. Very beautiful, very milkweedy! Thanks for introducing it to me.

    1. Isn’t that red a glorious color? Even the pink is attractive. I saw on the USDA map that it barely reaches into New York — it’s only in Washington County, at the far eastern side of the state. I was puzzled about its ubiquity in New Jersey, and then I remembered the pine barrens: an area similar in many ways to our piney woods.

      I don’t think you’ve been under a rock at all. None of us can be aware of every bit of flora or fauna in the world. Since you’ve introduced me to so many birds I’ve never known, it’s quite nice to show you something new!

  7. A mystery plant popped up a couple of years ago. I left it to its own devices, it waxed strong and is now almost five feet tall. One day beautiful buds and then beautiful yellow flowers appeared! No one knew what the plant was. I eventually typed in the correct descriptions and lo! The mystery plant turned out to be milkweed. It’s thriving. Aphids ravaged it this spring but an army of ladybugs ate the aphids! The milkweed spreadeth and I am still taken by its beauty.

    Our backyard is no bog. The plant seems to be drought tolerant.

    The red is just as lovely. What a lucky duck you are!

    1. How interesting. Which species do you have? I know there are milkweeds that reach 4′ tall, but 5′ is extraordinary. I’m wondering if it might be the yellow cultivar of butterfly weed called ‘Hello, Yellow. The nurseries selling it describe it as 3′-4′. It would be something to see if it grew taller.

      There are many milkweeds that thrive in dry environments: some of our Texas species can be found even in the Trans-Pecos.

    1. It would be interesting to know why most are pinkish, while a few become the darker red. All of these were in locations that seemed likely to receive the same amount of sunshine, and the soils surely were the same, so it’s likely simple variation among the plants. In any event, I was delighted to find the red ones. It seems a good motto for nature-wandering is “Expect the unexpected.”

  8. Red milkweed is positively beautiful. I had no idea that it existed. Finding plants such as this one here must be exciting and even better that you can photograph the beauties that you find in east Texas. I always think of the monarch butterfly anytime I see a photo of milkweed.

    1. It’s glorious, isn’t it? I certainly had no idea it existed until I got to the Piney Woods. Like the beautiful fewflower milkweed that I found there, the color is beyond eye-catching.

      I suspect most people think of monarchs when they come across a reference to mikweed. The campaigns on their behalf certainly have raised awareness. Now, if only all of those aware people would plant milkweed, or at least find some small way to contribute.

    1. Thank you so much, rethy. It’s been pure pleasure to meet some of these previously unfamiliar milkweed species. We have Asclepias curassavica as well; it’s often planted in butterfly gardens. One bit of advice often given to Texas gardeners is to cut it back once migration time has begun. Otherwise, the Monarchs may be tempted to stop their migration, since a ready food source is available.

    1. They are beautiful. I’m especially fond of the red ones’ color, but I was pleased to find the pink one, with four stages of budding and flowering on the same plant.

  9. The top parts of those blossoms remind me of mid-century modern light fixtures — like something out of the Jetsons. Rather elaborate parts to them.

    1. That’s a nice analogy. The nice thing about milkweed flowers is that they’re consistent across species. Even when the plants seem unfamiliar, or are so unexpected they’re not recognized for what they are, a closer look at those flowers will make their milkweed-ness obvious.

    1. They certainly don’t look like the pods I grew up with, and associated with milkweed for decades. Those pods were squat, and plump, as well as being rough and knobby. It was quite a surprise to find these svelte ones.

    1. Thank you, Pete. I was thrilled to find plants with truly red flowers, and interested to discover that a common name I’d never heard — ‘tall pink bog milkweed’ — is so widely used. I found pink examples first, and it took a while to convince myself that they, too, were ‘red milkweed.’

  10. Pure, clear shots and I agree with Peter, they’re breathtaking. I’ve never seen this milkweed in real life, but am a little familiar with it. I love milkweed seed pods. I just had some from my A. curassavica fluff up and blow in the wind–so nice to watch. As well, I have some seedlings, probably from last year’s seedy fluff.

    1. I was as surprised by this one as I was by the fewflower milkweed: such rich colors beg to be admired. The first slender pods I encountered belonged to a couple of our local species, and they certainly did differ from the squat, rough pods I knew from my time in the midwest. We always kept some pods for dried arrangements in the fall, and various other craft projects. I’ve never seen a pod actually split; that would be wonderful fun.

  11. That pod is so different from the ones our common milkweeds produce. Very elegant. I’ve seen swamp milkweed with bright red buds but once open the red disappears and the flowers are all pink. That is a lovely color.

    1. When I first saw this one, I spent some time trying to decide — red milkweed? swamp milkweed? — before I sorted it out. I was doubly delighted to find a pod already formed. As you say, it’s quite different from the mental image of ‘milkweed pod’ that I’ve carried in my head for years, and it’s certainly more graceful.

    1. Isn’t the seedpod fun? It reminds me of the spout on an old oil lamp, like Aladdin’s. I wonder — if we rubbed the pod and made a wish, would it be granted? Maybe so, since we already got those beautiful red flowers!

  12. That’s a beautiful Milkweed, and a new one to me! Wish I could grow it but if it wants acidic soil it won’t be happy here. Also, not sure about hardiness or whether I have a spot that’s wet enough. Still, I’d say the flower is definitely more striking than that of Swamp Milkweed, which I do grow.

    1. I’d better keep an eye out for your swamp milkweed; I don’t think I’ve seen it. The USDA shows it in two places I frequent. One is a coastal county, which makes sense, but it’s also shown up in the hill country. I suspect it’s found along the rivers and fresh water marshes there. This one has been introduced into Arkansas and Alabama, but otherwise it looks like it’s limited to bogs, pine barrens, and fens along the coast.

  13. Nice. These flowers you’ve been showing lately, are they all Spring bloomers, or do they continue to flower in the Summer? Are the pickings as bountiful now that the summer heat is arriving?

    1. Those are good questions, with complicated answers. Some orchids bloom in early spring and then fade after three or four weeks, but in mid-summer, other species emerge. Milkweeds’ seasons are longer, with more flowers coming even as the seeds form. We have spring ephemerals that appear as early as January, but they’re gone by March or April. July and August are less flowerrful because of the heat, but new species begin emerging in the fall and bloom well into winter. The bottom line is — there’s almost always something blooming.

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