United States Edition

African milkweed

Asclepias fruticosa

Belonging to the Asclepias genus, African milkweed has a botanical name of Asclepias fruticosa. A perennial, slender, erect shrub of up to 1.5 m. It is common in grassland and, being a pioneer plant, on disturbed ground. The inflorescence hangs and comprises up to 10 flowers, flowering Dec.-Mar. The waxy cream flowers develop into silk plumed seeds. The plant, when damaged, produces a bitter, poisonous sap.

It is often planted in gardens (it is frost-sensitive, requires full sun and well-drained soil, and should be regarded as invasive), particularly because it attracts butterflies (Monarch and Swallowtail), but also crab spiders, ladybugs, bees, wasps, ants and moths. Some feed on the nectar and the plant itself while others feed on the insects.The milkweed not only provides food for the adult Monarch butterfly but it also provides a nesting area for eggs and larvae. It can have a large deep root system once it becomes established and is then difficult to eradicate from gardens.

The plant is quite toxic because it produces a group of toxins known as cardenolides. The poisonous cardienolides protect the plant against herbivores. However, some animals are capable of eating the plant without ill effects. Thus the Monarch caterpillar (Danaus chrysippus) is among a select few creatures able to graze on the leaves of the milkweed. It manages to sequester and store the poisons, so that the butterfly into which it develops is protected from predators. The female Monarch butterfly lays her eggs on the underside of leaves, where they hatch in about 5 days; the young caterpillar chews its way out of the egg, usually eating the shell as its first meal.

All parts of plant are poisonous if ingested.

It grows mainly as a perennial, which means it typically grows best over a long period (from 3 years+). African milkweed is known for its bushy habit and growing to a height of approximately 15.00 metres (48.75 feet). This plant tends to bloom in late spring.

South Africa is believed to be where African milkweed originates from.

Due to how easy it is to grow in a variety of conditions, African milkweed is great for beginner gardeners and those that like low maintainance gardens.

This plant info is provided by the myfolia gardener's wiki. All details about African milkweed have been kindly provided by our members.

How to grow African milkweed

  • Full Sun

Choose a sunny position. Add blood and bone before planting and fertilize regularly. Protect from snails and slugs.

Smaller plants can be completely eaten by Monarch Butterfly caterpillars. Remove excess eggs to prevent this. Grow a number of plants to ensure lots of butterflies.

Try to plant in a location that enjoys full sun. The USDA Zones typically associated with African milkweed are Zone 10 and Zone 11.

See our list of companion Plants for African milkweed to see which plants you should plant in close proximity to encourage growth.

Growing African milkweed from seed

Try to aim for a seed spacing of at least 3.25 feet (1.00 metres) and sow at a depth of around 0.2 inches (0.5 cm).

Transplanting African milkweed

Sow direct where they are to grow. Scatter seed thinly, cover with seed raising mix, firm down and water gently. Thin plants later to 1 meter apart.

Common African milkweed problems

These problems, diseases and pests are known to affect African milkweed plants:

African milkweed Etymology

The latin ‘fruticosa’ means “shrubby”.1

Other names for African milkweed

Swan plant

Asclepias fruticosa L.

African milkweed care instructions

How long does African milkweed take to grow?

These estimates for how long African milkweed takes to sprout, grow and harvest are from real observations from real gardeners, right around the world. Start logging and journaling your observations to participate!


Popular varieties of African milkweed

View the complete variety list for African milkweed »

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