Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Poke Milkweed - Asclepias exaltata   L.
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Section 6 » Order Gentianales » Family Apocynaceae
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DistributionThroughout the mountains, barely ranging eastward into the higher portions of the Piedmont foothills (at least in the South Mountains).

This is a mostly Northeastern species, recorded from most counties in the range. Occurs from ME and MN south -- mainly eastward down the Appalachians, to northern GA and northern AL.
AbundanceCommon and easily found across the entire mountains. Scarce in the South Mountains of the Piedmont. Relatively few species whose range is essentially limited in the state to the mountains are assigned by the NCNHP a State Rank of S5 -- S4 is normally given to a "common" species - but this species has been collected in all such counties and is, indeed, a very widespread species such that the website editors concur with the S5 rank.
HabitatThis is a species mostly of margins of rich to mesic woods, on roadbanks, and in other openings in rich to mesic forests. It is not normally seen in the deep shade of Rich Cove Forests, but prefers partial shade.
PhenologyBlooms in June and July, and fruits in August and September.
IdentificationThis is perhaps the tallest species of milkweed in NC, normally being an erect species growing to 4-5' tall. It has scattered pairs of opposite leaves that are large but relatively unremarkable in shape, though they taper at both ends and thus with an acute tip. They are elliptic to lanceolate, entire, and about 7" long and 3" wide, with very short petioles. There are multiple flower clusters (umbels), from upper leaf axils; each is about 3" across and noticeably open and drooping, such that the 15-25 flowers are angled outward or downward, each on a long pedicel of 1" or more. The flowers are greenish-white but tinged with pink, not at all striking as compared with the flowers of most other milkweed species. The species can usually be separated from other species by the handful of drooping clusters from the upper axils. Common Milkweed (A. syriaca) is somewhat similar, and can hybridize with it, but it has shorter leaves that are strongly rounded at the tips, its flower clusters are a tighter "ball" (very short flower stalks), and the flowers are a stronger purple-pink color. Poke Milkweed can be among the most frequently seen wildflowers in bloom in early summer to midsummer along mountain roads passing through forests, such as along much of the Blue Ridge Parkway or along US Forest Service roads.
Taxonomic CommentsAs mentioned above, this species at times hybridizes with A. syriaca.

Other Common Name(s)Tall Milkweed. The name "Poke Milkweed" is given owing to the plant having leaves like Common Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana); however, that species has alternate leaves.
State RankS5
Global RankG5
State Status
US Status
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